Junior Vince Vannelle is the only pitcher on the Arizona Wildcats’ staff with an ERA under 4.00.

Before going to college, he was barely a pitcher at all.

Vannelle primarily played shortstop at William Mason High School near Cincinnati. He also wrestled and played quarterback for the football team.

Vannelle pitched an inning at a showcase event in Georgia, and the coaches at Florida Southwestern State College liked what they saw. Vannelle became a full-time pitcher for the junior college in Fort Myers.

One of the coaches who recruited him, Steve Singleton, played under UA coach Jay Johnson at the University of San Diego. Information was exchanged. Phone calls were made. Vannelle became a Wildcat.

Three-fourths of the way through his first season in Tucson, Vannelle has become the Wildcats’ most reliable reliever.

“We’re happy to have him,” said Johnson, whose teams opens a three-game home series against Oregon on Friday. “He’s got the mentality that I want the players on our team to have.”

Johnson considers Vannelle the best competitor on the pitching staff. Vannelle attributes that trait to his upbringing and multisport background.

His father, Jim, played baseball at the University of Ohio and always pushed Vince “to be my best every day,” Vannelle said. Wrestling, meanwhile, gave Vannelle a competitive edge he might not have had otherwise.

“You’ve got to be ready to go as soon as the whistle blows,” Vannelle said. “That’s how it is when you step on the mound. You’ve just gotta have that mentality that you’re going to beat somebody.”

The right-hander has a 1-1 record with one save in 19 appearances. His 21-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 3.91 ERA stand out on a staff that has struggled to throw strikes and record outs.

The thing that stands out the most about Vannelle, however, is his windup. Once he’s ready to pitch, he kicks and fires at an accelerated rate. He modeled his motion after former Vanderbilt standout Carson Fulmer, who now pitches for the Chicago White Sox.

“I just really liked watching it,” Vannelle said. “I felt if you had that up-tempo pace and that really fast, down-the-mound mentality – trying to get the ball there and get the hitter off their timing – it wakes everybody up around you. There’s nothing worse than when a pitcher is really slow, and your infielders and outfielders are falling asleep.”

Vannelle’s fastball has reached 94 mph this season, and he complements it with a curve and changeup. But there’s no question that his delivery fuels his effectiveness.

“It’s really simple,” Johnson said. “Hitting is about seeing the ball and timing. Pitching’s about not letting hitters see the ball and disrupting timing. That’s a little advantage he has, and he uses it very well.”

Vannelle was the only UA pitcher who didn’t allow a run in Tuesday’s 15-13 loss to New Mexico State, throwing a pair of scoreless innings in eighth and ninth. He earned his first save with three hitless innings against Washington on April 5.

“He pitches with a lot of heart,” Johnson said. “He pitches with really good tempo. I know the infielders like playing behind him. He’s a guy we want to get in the game as much as we can.”

Dyer vs. Ducks

Arizona’s leading hitter, Matthew Dyer, is expected to return to the lineup after missing the NMSU game because of the flu. Dyer will face the team with which he began his college career.

Dyer, who’s from Glendale, played for the Ducks as a freshman in 2017. He batted .268 with 17 RBIs in 43 games.

After transferring to Arizona and sitting out last season, Dyer has elevated his play. His .399 average ranks second in the Pac-12. His .481 on-base percentage ranks fifth.

Johnson isn’t worried about Dyer letting his emotions get the best of him this weekend.

“Obviously, there’s a human element to it,” Johnson said. “I’m sure there’s some level of excitement or attachment to that. He spent a year playing with those guys. I’m sure there are guys on that team that are his friends.

“But the best part about Matt is his consistency and competitiveness. That’s what I would anticipate coming out.”

Dyer carries an 18-game hitting streak into the Oregon series, the longest by a Wildcat during the Johnson era.

Inside pitch

  • Freshman right-hander Bryce Collins will miss the remainder of the season, Johnson said. Collins experienced forearm tightness against UCLA on March 23 and hasn’t pitched since.
  • Although freshman infielder Dayton Dooney (shoulder) is close to being able to play in the field again, junior Cameron Cannon will remain at shortstop for the rest of the season. Cannon, who has a team-high 18 errors, has gone nine games without committing one. Dooney, who mainly has been limited to DH duty since getting hurt April 9, could see time at first or second base soon.
  • Much like Arizona (19-23, 7-14), injuries have had a significant impact on Oregon (23-19, 8-10). Right-hander Kenyon Yovan has been limited to one appearance because of hand and wrist issues. Yovan was a first-team All-Pac-12 performer in 2018, when he went 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings.
  • The Ducks also have only one pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA: left-hander Robert Ahlstrom (5-4, 3.57), who’s scheduled to start Saturday against UA righty Quinn Flanagan (4-3, 6.07). Friday’s game pits UA left-hander Randy Labaut (4-3, 5.93) against lefty Cole Stringer (1-1, 6.03). Sunday’s matchup features lefty Andrew Nardi (3-5, 7.63) and righty Cullen Kafka (5-3, 4.35).
  • Oregon leads the Pac-12 in stolen bases (49) and stolen-base attempts (72). The Ducks are the only team in the league with a higher on-base percentage (.384) than slugging percentage (.383).
  • Arizona junior third baseman Nick Quintana ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in RBIs (47), fifth in walks (36) and eighth in home runs (10) and on-base percentage (.452).
  • Arizona won 2 of 3 against Oregon each of the past two seasons and has won five of its last seven vs. the Ducks.

Reporter

Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.