It was the final home opener for Nathan Bannister as an Arizona Wildcat. It was the first for Jay Johnson.

Both made all the right moves in Arizona’s 2-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday night at Hi Corbett Field.

Bannister pitched brilliantly. The senior right-hander allowed two hits and struck out four in 6 2/3 shutout innings.

Bannister’s game plan — he writes one down before every start — was simple: throw strikes and take advantage of his defense.

Bannister threw 88 pitches, and 60 were strikes. He did not issue a walk.

“His experience was very valuable,” Johnson said. “This was our first time playing in front of this crowd here, and I felt he would handle the moment, the nerves, all of those things well.

“He pitched down in the end zone. They did not get very many pitches to hit. (And) with the ballpark playing the way it did and the ball going nowhere, that benefited us. He was spectacular.”

Arizona won its third in a row to improve to 5-3. The Wildcats ended the Titans’ three-game winning streak. Fullerton, ranked in the top 25 in three polls, fell to 4-3.

Johnson was a little more amped up before the game than usual. Third baseman Bobby Dalbec saw Johnson pacing and asked him if he was fired up. Johnson said yes. Then they chest-bumped.

“It was pretty cool to get a ‘W’ for him,” said Dalbec, who had an RBI, a run scored and pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for his first save of the season.

In describing his emotions, Johnson quoted assistant coach Dave Lawn.

“Coach Lawn has a good saying: ‘If you ever stop being a little bit nervous, it’s time to get out,’ ” Johnson said. “I’m really proud of the way we’ve competed so far, and I really wanted these people to see the style of play, the energy in the dugout, how badly our guys want to win. … It was more of an excitement to get in front of our fans.”

Dalbec fed off that energy when he entered the game with two outs in the top of the seventh. After falling behind 2-0 against Fullerton’s Chris Hudgins, Dalbec induced a grounder to first. He allowed singles in the eighth and ninth but worked his way out of both innings.

Dalbec, who has gotten off to a slow start at the plate, was involved in both of Arizona’s runs. After designated hitter JJ Matijevic tripled off the left-field wall with one out in the bottom of the second, Dalbec lined a single to left to drive him home.

“I’m just trying to jump on the first pitch that’s in the zone, especially in an RBI situation,” Dalbec said. “The guy left one up, and I got a good piece of it.”

After advancing to third, Dalbec scored on a fly ball to left by Cesar Salazar. It was all Bannister (and Dalbec) would need.

“I just want to go out and do the best I can for my team, try to give them a chance to win every night,” Bannister said. “And I think I did a pretty good job of that tonight.”

Bannister had to work out of only one serious jam. He hit Fullerton’s Dalton Blaser to lead off the third, then allowed a single up the middle to Dakota Wix. A sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out. But Bannister struck out Josh Vargas looking. Timmy Richards then popped out to second base.

The hardest hit ball off Bannister was an out – a deep drive by Chris Hudgins in the top of the fifth that died on the warning track.

Inside pitch

  • Matijevic’s triple gave him a six-game hitting streak.
  • Johnson said Cameron Ming will start Friday against Northwestern State in the first game of the Wildcat Invitational. JC Cloney will pitch Saturday against Cal State Bakersfield. Sunday’s pitchers are TBA.


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.