PHOENIX — The Arizona Wildcats can’t win their series against rival Arizona State. Winning a game would be something.
No. 14 ASU clinched a series victory with an 8-3 triumph Saturday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The win was the Sun Devils’ 24th of the season — one more than they recorded in each of the past two campaigns. They have lost only once.
Arizona had won the previous two series against ASU, including a sweep here in 2017. Game 3 is Sunday afternoon.
Similar to Friday night’s opener, the Wildcats fell behind early, made it interesting for a while but couldn’t quite catch up before the Sun Devils pulled away.
Arizona has dropped six in a row — its longest losing streak since an eight-game skid in March 2014. The Wildcats fell to 13-13, 2-6 in the Pac-12.
"The only thing we can do that is productive is put our head down and work and improve," UA coach Jay Johnson said. "We’re going to get a lot of tests over the next two months. The only choice we have is to respond well to those. We’re going to show up early, get some work in before the game tomorrow and just keep going in that direction."
This is unprecedented territory for Arizona under Johnson, who posted a .644 winning percentage in his first three seasons as UA coach. The best-case scenario for the Wildcats through three Pac-12 series is to match their worst-under-Johnson 3-6 league start from 2016.
If you’re looking for a bright side, one can be found there: That UA team hit its stride and made it all the way to the College World Series finals.
The previous longest losing streak under Johnson was five games last season. That skid dropped Arizona to 6-11 in Pac-12 play on April 28. The Wildcats won eight of their final 13 conference games and barely missed making a third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
UA starter Quinn Flanagan had high hopes entering his first career start against ASU. Flanagan grew up in Chandler and attended Corona del Sol High School in Tempe. He played with or against several Sun Devils at one point or another.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Flanagan said earlier in the week. “It’ll be fun. I know a lot of people up there.”
Flanagan failed to get out of the first inning. After striking out leadoff batter Trevor Hauver on three pitches, Flanagan yielded a single to Spencer Torkelson and a home run to Hunter Bishop. It was Bishop’s second in as many nights and his Pac-12-leading 16th of the season.
Flanagan then hit Alika Williams with a 1-2 fastball. Three more runs came home via two singles, two walks and a wild pitch.
It was the second straight rough outing for Flanagan after he threw a 115-pitch shutout against Utah on March 16. Flanagan, a redshirt freshman who missed almost three full seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery, said he felt fine physically against UCLA last Saturday. He said the Bruins, unlike previous opponents, capitalized on his mistakes. They touched him for seven runs in three-plus innings.
Arizona rallied to take the lead in that game against No. 1 UCLA, and the Wildcats wouldn’t go down without a fight against the Sun Devils.
Sophomore left-hander Gil Luna kept the game within reach by pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Flanagan. Freshman first baseman Dayton Dooney made it 5-3 with a three-run homer off ASU starter Boyd Vander Kooi in the fourth.
It was the second homer in as many nights for Dooney, who has become a key figure in the wake of center fielder Matt Fraizer’s possible season-ending hand injury. Dooney was one of several UA freshmen who looked comfortable playing in front of more than 6,000 fans in Friday’s opener — a good sign for the Wildcats’ future.
The Sun Devils made sure the present remained unpleasant. Hauver robbed Jacob Blas of an RBI extra-base hit in the top of the sixth with a running catch on the track in the left-field corner.
The Sun Devils then scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning to make it 8-3. Arizona almost got out of the frame unscathed, but Torkelson was ruled safe on a bang-bang play at the plate.
The Wildcats loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth, but reliever Sam Romero struck out Austin Wells and Cameron Cannon to end the game.
- The pitch that hit Williams struck UA catcher Matthew Dyer in the neck/jaw area. Trainers and Johnson tended to Dyer for several minutes. He remained in the game.
- Cannon went 1 for 5 and left seven runners on base. Cannon, who batted cleanup for the first time this season, has just three hits in his past 29 at-bats. His average has fallen from .449 to .355.
- ASU coach Tracy Smith was ejected in the bottom of the fifth amid a heated argument with second-base umpire Ryan Goodman. Goodman ruled that Williams left second early on a flyout to Donta Williams. Replays indicated that Goodman missed the call.
- UA freshman right-hander Bryce Collins suffered a strained forearm at UCLA and is out "until further notice," Johnson said. The Wildcats will be extremely cautious with one of their most promising young arms.
- Junior left-hander Andrew Nardi, coming off a strong outing, is expected to start for Arizona on Sunday. He’ll face ASU sophomore righty RJ Dabovich.
- Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald tossed one of the ceremonial first pitches before the game. Former Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins served as his catcher. Wilkins carried a replica of the Territorial Cup while mingling with ASU players and personnel.