This is how it was supposed to look all along.
The Arizona offense jumped on USC from the get-go. Wildcats starter Randy Labaut generally kept the Trojans off the bases and off the scoreboard.
Arizona played one of its best all-around games Friday night, defeating USC 12-4 in the opener of a three-game series at Hi Corbett Field.
The Wildcats (23-24) have won four straight Pac-12 games and are now 11-14 in conference play. They’d have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament if they won their five remaining league contests.
Juniors Nick Quintana and Cameron Cannon were the offensive stars. Quintana went 3 for 5 with four RBIs, including a three-run homer; Cannon went 4 for 6 with three RBIs, including a solo shot.
"A game like that, that’s exactly what we want to do as a team," Quintana said. "That’s the standard we want to hold ourselves to."
Arizona reached double digits in runs for the 18th time this season. Offensive outbursts like the one that saw the Wildcats score five runs in the first inning off Trojans starter Connor Lunn – highlighted by Quintana’s three-run homer – have become commonplace.
Pitching performances like Labaut’s have been much rarer. Arizona entered Friday with a league-worst 6.74 ERA. Labaut’s stood at 5.98.
The redshirt junior was sharp and efficient in what might have been his final start at Hi Corbett Field. Labaut allowed two runs in seven innings and matched his career high with seven strikeouts. The left-hander threw 75 of 109 pitches for strikes.
Labaut’s season ERA belies how well he has pitched over the past month. Friday marked his fourth quality start in his past six outings. Even last week, when he allowed six runs (five earned) in seven innings against Oregon, Labaut pitched well. Five of the runs came in the third inning of a game Arizona won 17-6.
"I went back to who I am, not trying to do too much," Labaut said. "Pitching to my abilities, not trying to overthrow. Really work down, change speeds, in and out."
While it’s unclear whether Labaut will come back for one more season, Quintana and Cannon are certain to leave. Both are expected to be selected no later than Day 2 of the MLB draft in June.
Quintana’s home run gave him 12 for the season and 32 for his career, tied for seventh most in UA history. Cannon’s homer was his sixth of the season and his first since March 23. He leads the nation with 25 doubles and is batting .379.
Earlier in the week, UA coach Jay Johnson summarized Quintana and Cannon’s contributions to the program.
“To those guys’ credit, their development track has been faster than a lot of players,” Johnson said. “It speaks to their talent and their commitment to baseball.
“Both of them had an impact as freshmen on an NCAA regional team – a significant impact. Then became all-Pac-12 players last year. They have fit here really well. The most positive identity of our program right now is the offensive development, and those two guys have been at the head of that.
“I think they’re going to be good pros. They both have unique personality traits that will make them good professional players. They’ve probably gotten overshadowed a bit when you look at what (Arizona’s State’s Hunter) Bishop has done, what (Oregon State’s) Adley Rutschman is, (Cal’s) Andrew Vaughn. They’re not far behind that.”
- UA freshman Branden Boissiere went 3 for 5 to lift his batting average in Pac-12 play to .396 (19 for 48). Fellow freshman Dayton Dooney hit his sixth home run of the season. He has five homers in 64 at-bats in conference play.
- Freshman infielder Tony Bullard returned to the lineup at DH after missing Tuesday’s game against Arizona State. Bullard had surgery to repair a nasal fracture Monday.
- Catcher-first baseman Matthew Dyer missed his third straight game because of a bruised hand. Dyer, who’s hitting .393 and has a 20-game hitting streak, was struck on the hand with a pitch last Saturday vs. Oregon. Johnson said it's unlikely Dyer will play this weekend.
- Left-hander Andrew Nardi (3-5, 7.47 ERA) is scheduled to start for Arizona in Game 2 Saturday. He’ll face lefty Isaac Esqueda (3-4, 3.86).