Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson needed just three words to summarize visiting Stanford’s formula for success.
“Pitching and defense,” the UA coach said earlier this week.
Both were on display during Friday’s series opener between the Cardinal and Wildcats. It just so happened that the Cats had a little more of both.
Senior starter Nathan Bannister continued his dominance at home, and Arizona fielded the ball flawlessly during a 4-1 victory at Hi Corbett Field.
Bannister improved to 5-0 at home, where he has a minuscule 0.86 ERA in 41º innings. In his past two starts at Hi Corbett – both Wildcats victories – Bannister has allowed one run and eight hits in 17 innings.
Afterward, Johnson joked that he could use the same quotes from Bannister’s last few outings to describe this one. Three more words sufficed: “That was spectacular.”
Said Bannister: “I think it’s just the work and progress since the fall. It’s really showing right now.”
Arizona improved to 15-4 at home. The Wildcats are 21-13 overall, 6-7 in the Pac-12. Stanford, which had won six of its previous seven, fell to 18-10, 6-4.
Stanford entered this week tied for first in the nation in fielding percentage and leading the Pac-12 in ERA. It was easy to see why.
In the bottom of the third, Arizona’s Zach Gibbons pounded a grounder up the middle. But Stanford second baseman Nico Hoerner made a diving stop behind the base, quickly rose to his feet and threw out Gibbons.
“Oh man,” Johnson said. “Hoerner looked like Craig Biggio on that play up the middle. That’s a real-deal defense.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Arizona’s Ryan Haug hit a chopper over third baseman Mikey Diekroeger’s head. It looked like a sure infield single. But shortstop Tommy Edman fielded the ball deep in the hole and fired across the diamond to first baseman Matt Winaker, who scooped the low throw to retire Haug.
Gibbons got another chance in that inning, and he took advantage of it. After Cody Ramer roped a double to right, Gibbons hit a groundball single past Hoerner to give Arizona a 1-0 lead.
The Cardinal didn’t commit any errors, but its defense wasn’t perfect. The Wildcats’ second and fourth runs, scored in the seventh and eighth innings, came on passed balls by catcher Alex Dunlap.
Pinch-hitter Kyle Lewis provided the other run with an RBI single in the eighth. Lewis has hits in five consecutive at-bats at Hi Corbett. He is batting .455 (10 for 22) this season.
Arizona didn’t make as many spectacular plays as Stanford, but the Wildcats didn’t make any mistakes. How sharp were they? In the top of the eighth, the UA bench noticed that pinch-hitter Austin Barr had missed first base en route to second for a would-be double. The Wildcats relayed the ball to first baseman Ryan Aguilar, who stepped on first for an unusual inning-ending out.
“Big credit to them for staying in the game,” Johnson said of Arizona’s bench. “That was a big play right there.”
• A westerly breeze howled in from right field, making it all but impossible to hit a home run to right or center. “Nobody was going 3 for 4 tonight,” Johnson said. “That wind was pretty violent.”
• Former Arizona football player Will Parks attended the game and stopped by the press box. The safety is preparing for the April 28-30 NFL draft. He could be a late-round selection.
• The kinks are still being worked out with the new scoreboard at Hi Corbett. All batting averages displayed as .000 throughout the game.