Exactly one-quarter of the season remained when Arizona faced Oregon on Friday night. Barring a miracle, the Wildcats’ season will end May 25.
No one is happy about Arizona’s current plight, least of all UA coach Jay Johnson, whose team has its work cut out to avoid a rare sub.-500 season.
As is his way, however, Johnson is viewing this final month as an opportunity. As he noted earlier in the week, many of the players who have assumed sizable roles are going to be here “for a long time.” He challenged his staff to help those players make the most of the final 14 games.
“We’ve talked a lot about creating value,” Johnson said. “It’s not fun to be in. It’s not where we want to be. It’s not what you want to talk about
“But the reality is, this is where we’re at, and there’s two ways to respond to it: Mail it in and waste a month of time that we have with guys that are going to be here next year — or really get into it, get after it and get something out of it.”
The Wildcats got after it against the Ducks in the opener of their three-game series. Arizona rallied from a five-run deficit to defeat Oregon 17-6 at Hi Corbett Field.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Wildcats (20-23, 8-14 Pac-12). The Ducks (23-20, 8-11) dropped their second straight.
As has been the case often lately, freshmen made significant contributions for the Wildcats. Three started and six played. They combined for seven hits, nine runs and nine RBIs.
UA starter Randy Labaut is at the opposite end of his college career. But it might not be concluding when this season ends, a development few would have expected when the year began.
Despite a recent stretch of quality starts — and a solid outing Friday, sans one rough inning — Labaut hasn’t had the type of season he expected of himself. He entered the game with a 4-3 record but a 5.93 ERA. He posted a 1.60 ERA in last year’s injury-shortened campaign.
Johnson suggested that Labaut, who’s a redshirt junior, could return for a fifth season to earn his degree and finish his playing career on a more positive note.
“We just want him to know that we would love to have him back, help him finish that academic journey,” Johnson said. “I think there’s great value in having older players on your team, in particular someone like him. We’ve gotta see how it all goes.”
Labaut surrendered six runs, five of which were earned, in seven innings against Oregon. Five came in the third inning, when Labaut yielded a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
From the fourth inning through the seventh, the left-hander did not allow a hit. Three Ducks reached base during that span, all via errors.
Arizona responded with five runs in the bottom of the third to tie the score. Down 6-5 in the sixth, the Wildcats had a chance to tie or take the lead. With two outs and the bases loaded, freshman Tony Bullard hit a bullet to left-center. Oregon left fielder Tanner Smith made a sliding catch to end the inning.
Arizona took the lead in the seventh. Freshman Dayton Dooney drove in the tying run with a double into the right-field corner. Ex-Duck Matthew Dyer then plated Dooney. The single to right extended Dyer’s hitting streak to 19 games.
Freshman Austin Wells followed with a two-RBI single to left. The Wildcats scored six runs in the inning, aided by four Oregon errors.
Arizona added six more runs in the eighth, including freshman Branden Boissiere’s first career home run.
- Labaut did not walk a batter for the second straight outing. He and three relievers combined to walk zero hitters in last Friday’s 6-3 win at No. 2 Stanford — the only walk-less outing by the UA staff this year entering Game 1 vs. Oregon.
- Oregon committed a season-high six errors. Arizona had three errors, including two by shortstop Cameron Cannon, who entered Friday with a nine-game errorless streak.
- Right-hander Quinn Flanagan (4-3, 6.07) is scheduled to start for Arizona in Game 2 Saturday. He’ll face lefty Robert Ahlstrom (5-4, 3.57).