California pitcher Jared Horn jumped the third-base line and threw a massive fist pump, screaming in the direction of his dugout.
Arizona had finally gotten to him, scoring two of its three runs in the bottom of the eighth and trimming the lead to just a pair. But as center fielder Cameron Eden chased down a deep fly ball for the third out, he had survived.
California tacked on two more in the ninth, sealing the 7-3 defeat for the Wildcats (17-16, 5-9 Pac-12) Saturday at Hi Corbett Field. Closer Sean Sullivan recorded the final three outs, and Arizona lost a home series for the first time this season.
For much of the game, the Wildcats just couldn’t get a grip on the slippery right-handed starter.
Horn pitched only 23 innings through his five starts but had a 1.96 ERA coming into Saturday. But after Arizona took a 1-0 lead in the first inning with back-to-back doubles from Austin Wells and Nick Quintana, he was nearly unhittable, retiring 16 in a row at one point.
Arizona coach Jay Johnson called a conference with Quintana before his at-bat in the fourth, trying to get his hitters to take a few pitches as Horn hadn’t even reached 50 yet. Quintana promptly started his at-bat 3-0 but struck out swinging. Dayton Dooney did the same, starting 3-0 before swinging through the sixth pitch for strike three.
Horn finished with three runs, two earned, on six hits and no walks with nine strikeouts and 114 pitches, which included only 69 strikes.
“I really thought Horn pitched the best game that anyone has pitched against us this year,” Johnson said. “He’s been really good this year, and he was really good tonight. Give the credit to the pitcher, if you missed your pitch, it was going to be hard.”
Early on, it looked like Arizona freshman starting pitcher Quinn Flanagan, who entered the game with a 4-0 record and a 1.45 ERA at home, had enough to match Horn.
But on his 93rd pitch, in the sixth inning, Flanagan left a high fastball a little too low, and California designated hitter Grant Holman crushed it to straight-away center. The two-run bomb gave the Golden Bears (18-11, 7-4) a 3-1 lead and chased Flanagan from the game.
For the second-straight game, Nick Quintana had several solid plays and a few great ones at third base. He swallowed a hard-hit grounder that skipped off the third-base bag and tossed it to first with ease. But shortly after, the rest of the Arizona defense began to fall apart.
Arizona right fielder Justin Wiley took too long flagging down a base hit, allowing eight-hole hitter Connor Mack to stretch at single into a double. And with one out, shortstop Cameron Cannon airmailed a throw over first, handing California its first run.
It was Cannon’s 17th error of the season, 14 of which have come in seven starts at shortstop. He also mishandled a sharply hit ball in the seventh that allowed two runs to score, but the play was recorded as a hit.
The every-day second baseman started on the other side of the bag for the second-straight game due to Dayton Dooney’s lingering shoulder injury, suffered at Grand Canyon Tuesday. Dooney served as the designated hitter, going 0 for 2 before being replaced for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning.
Arizona finishes up its series against California at 1 p.m. Sunday.