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Arizona Wildcats ride Austin Wells, solid pitching to season-opening win
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Arizona Wildcats ride Austin Wells, solid pitching to season-opening win

Austin Wells hit a home run in the first at-bat of his Arizona Wildcats career.

It took the sophomore two at-bats to hit one in 2020.

The preseason All-American and projected first-round draft pick smashed a three-run shot in the bottom of the second inning to spark Arizona to a 12-7 victory over Albany in the season opener Friday night at Hi Corbett Field.

The Wildcats extended the nation’s longest active winning streak to 11 games. They also won their 17th straight home opener, including five in a row under Jay Johnson.

"I thought our players were ready to play," Johnson said. "I think they controlled the opening-night thing. Everybody's a little excited and can try to do too much. I don't think they did that. We were very prepared in that manner. And I think it led to a lot of good play."

Wells became the first Wildcat to be named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season, and he showed no signs of slowing down. The left-handed-hitting catcher went 3 for 4 with two doubles, four RBIs and a walk. His home run sailed over the refurbished “Intimidator” board in right-center and was estimated to have traveled 408 feet.

"If we go 80% quality at-bats with anybody, we’ll be happy," Johnson said. "It’s something that we've kind of become accustomed to (with him).

"He’s just a complete hitter. He handles all types of pitches in all types of zones, and I think we saw that tonight."

The top three hitters in Arizona’s lineup – Donta Williams, Wells and Matthew Dyer – combined to go 8 for 12 with six extra-base hits, six runs and eight RBIs.

Several Wildcats made their UA debuts Friday night – including their starting pitcher and an important addition to the coaching staff.

Left-hander Garrett Irvin, a transfer from Riverside (Calif.) City College, allowed two runs and struck out seven in five innings. Irvin yielded four hits and one walk to earn his first Arizona victory.

Irvin, facing an all-right-handed lineup, struggled with his command at times but threw 58 of 88 pitches for strikes. He worked out of a first-and-third jam in the fourth inning and retired the side in order in the fifth. Irvin also picked off two baserunners.

"It was nerve-racking," said Irvin, who posed for a picture with several friends and family members in the stands after speaking to the media. "We work all fall to prepare for today. So it was nice to kind of get it out of the way. ... But for me, it was a lot of fun."

"He's a competitor," Wells said, "and he definitely fought through a lot of pitches in a short amount of innings. But he got through five (and) kept us ahead."

Irvin’s fourth-inning escape followed a visit to the mound by new pitching coach Nate Yeskie. Arizona hired Yeskie away from Oregon State, where he established himself as one of the top assistants in the nation.

Yeskie has been tasked with improving a staff that ranked last in the Pac-12 in ERA last season. The initial results were mostly positive.

Irvin, Vince Vannelle and Nate Brown combined to strike out 14 batters – two more than the Wildcats registered in any game last season.

"It's a lot easier to play defense when you strike people out," Johnson said.

Zach Sherman had a rough ninth inning, allowing four hits, two walks and five runs.

Inside pitch

  • Before the national anthem, a 14-second moment of silence was observed for former Orange Coast College coach John Altobelli, his wife and his daughter, who were killed in the Jan. 26 helicopter crashed that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant and five others.
  • UA shortstop Kyson Donahue, a redshirt freshman, notched his first career hit in the bottom of the seventh — a ground-rule double down the third-base line.
  • Sophomore outfielder Ryan Holgate went 2 for 3 with a home run and three runs scored.
  • Right-hander Quinn Flanagan is scheduled to start for Arizona in Game 2 Saturday. Flanagan tied for the team lead with eight wins as a redshirt freshman last year. He will face freshman lefty Cregg Scherrer.
  • Former Wildcats Cameron Cannon and Matt Fraizer attended the game. They were selected in the second and third rounds, respectively, in last year’s MLB draft.

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