The Arizona Wildcats won their weekend series against College of Charleston, which came to Hi Corbett Field with a significantly higher RPI rating and had victories over two teams ranked in the top 10 in that metric. That’s the good news.
The bad: Arizona lost 10-6 Sunday to fall to 4-4 on its current homestand. The Wildcats had won almost 80 percent of their first 96 home games in three-plus seasons under Jay Johnson. The ever-upbeat coach couldn’t deny how disappointing the homestand has been so far.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “The consistency piece of it is something we want to get better at.”
Arizona (10-6) seems to have solved the defensive woes that proved costly earlier in the homestand. After a stretch during which they committed four-plus errors in four straight games, the Wildcats were guilty of only one apiece Saturday and Sunday.
The offense hasn’t been flawless, but it has been good enough to win most days. Arizona has scored fewer than four runs in a game only once this season.
On Sunday, the pitching staff faltered from the start. Eight pitchers combined to yield 15 hits and eight walks (two intentional). They also uncorked four wild pitches and hit a pair of batters.
“You’re not going to win many games at this level when you have 2½ guys on base per inning,” Johnson said. “Other than Bryce (Collins), who I thought did a really nice job competing, we really struggled from the mound.”
Collins, the hard-throwing freshman right-hander, allowed one earned run in 3 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. He helped stem the tide in the decisive third inning, but much of the damage already had been done by that point.
Arizona led 3-1 entering the third. Reliever Andrew Nardi — who had replaced starter Vince Vannelle just four batters into the game — walked Chaz Davey to open the frame. The Cougars (10-5) followed with four straight singles off Nardi and fellow lefty Gil Luna.
Luna walked Luke Manzo to make it 4-3. Collins induced weak contact against Chris Graham, but third baseman Nick Quintana had no play on his roller up the line. Shortstop Jacob Blas had only one play, to first, on Dupree Hart’s chopper, allowing Charleston to score another run. The inning finally ended when Matthew Dyer caught a fly ball in foul territory and threw out Manzo at the plate.
The Cougars’ five-running inning was their second of the series. Arizona surrendered seven- and eight-run innings to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Michigan State, respectively, in earlier losses on the homestand.
“You’ve gotta eliminate the free bases, plain and simple,” Johnson said. “Every three-run or five-run inning usually has a walk, an error or a hit by pitch.
“We’ve just gotta keep trucking on that. It’s something we’ve been good at at times, but not when those big innings have shown up.”
The Wildcats scored a run in the sixth and another in the seventh to make it 7-6 entering the eighth. They might have had a bigger output in the seventh, but Matt Fraizer got thrown out at third after trying to advance on a ball Graham bobbled in right-center field. Arizona trailed by two runs at the time, and there were no outs in the inning.
“It definitely would have changed the game,” Fraizer said. “I saw it drop. I saw him bobble it. It just didn’t go as far as I thought.
“Probably not the smartest to get thrown out at third with no outs. But just being aggressive. That’s how I play. That’s how I go about things.”
Johnson appreciated Fraizer’s aggressiveness, even though he broke one of Arizona’s basic baserunning rules. Johnson briefly argued the call at third; both he and Fraizer thought he was safe. But as Johnson noted afterward: “That call certainly didn’t dictate the winning or losing of the game.”
Charleston tacked on three runs in the eighth, a rally that began with a hit batsman on a 1-2 count.
Blas’ return from a nine-game absence to deal with a personal matter solidified the defense up the middle. Johnson said Blas “saved us another six runs.” Cameron Cannon made several sparkling plays at second base.
The goal now is to put it all together — offense, defense and pitching – for a sustained stretch.
“Hopefully the defense playing better will take some pressure off the pitching staff,” Johnson said. “Hopefully the pitching staff making an improvement will take some pressure off the offense. And then you just end up playing better. I know these guys want to do that.”
- Cannon went 3 for 5 to raise his average to a team-best .439. He went 7 for 14 in the series.
- Fraizer had two hits and two RBIs. He’s hitting .397 with a team-high 22 RBIs.
- Quintana also had two hits and two RBIs. It was his first multihit game since Feb. 24 vs. Houston.
- Arizona concludes the preseason portion of its schedule Tuesday against Xavier. The UA opens Pac-12 play Friday against Utah.