SCOTTSDALE — Casey Bowman had played at multiple spring training parks in and around his hometown of Phoenix. But this was something altogether different for the Arizona Wildcats reserve infielder.

Tuesday’s exhibition game was Bowman’s first at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. And the opponent? Bowman’s favorite major-league team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

So excuse Bowman for being a bit nervous at the outset.

“First inning, it was hard to breathe, honestly,” the redshirt sophomore said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m playing against big-leaguers. I don’t know what to do.’ ”

After making an error on his first chance — a slightly wide throw from first base to second — Bowman settled down and had the time of his life. The seldom-used backup went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored off the bench in the Wildcats’ 12-5 loss to the Diamondbacks.

Afterward, Bowman greeted his parents and other well-wishers just beyond the first base dugout. They included older brother Ty, a UA grad who’s now an area scout for the Seattle Mariners. Ty flew in for the game from Oklahoma City.

“It was so much fun,” Bowman said. “Just being on the same field as them, it was such an honor. We all strive to do that. We all want to be big-leaguers.”

Bowman’s experience was exactly what Jay Johnson was hoping his players would get out of facing the Diamondbacks. He encouraged them to enjoy the day, take pictures and decompress after a challenging opening stretch of seven games — all on the road — in 10 days.

“It was just a have-fun message,” said reserve outfielder Michael Hoard, who also went 2 for 3 with an RBI. “We’re out here to get better. If we come out with a W, even better.”

Hoard’s RBI single to right capped a three-run fourth inning and tied the score at 5. The hit drove home Sawyer Gieseke, who had to contort his body to avoid the tag by catcher Brett Hayes.

The UA dugout erupted after witnessing Gieseke’s acrobatic maneuver. Hoard said fans should expect more of the same when Arizona plays its home opener against Cal State-Fullerton on Wednesday.

“When there’s a real opponent and we’re trying to get that W, it’s on,” Hoard said. “I think the fans at Hi Corbett (Field) are really going to respond well to the energy we’re about to bring to these baseball games.”

Raves for Rivas

Outfielder Alfonso Rivas III flied out to center in his lone at-bat, a rare occurrence of late for the sizzling freshman.

Rivas was named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Tuesday after going 9 for 15 with seven RBIs, four runs scored, a home run and a double in the Tony Gwynn Classic. Entering Tuesday, Rivas ranked second in the conference in batting average (.476) and fourth in slugging percentage (.667).

Johnson got a sneak peek at Rivas while coaching at the University of San Diego. Rivas played at La Jolla Country Day School.

“When I got the job, I was certainly excited that he had signed here,” Johnson said. “He’s got a great maturity to him. Very level-headed. Very intelligent. The adjustments that we’ve thrown at him, he’s able to take and run with. He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. He’s got a lot of bat speed. Great hand-eye (coordination). It’s been great to see.”

Bannister on the bump

Senior right-hander Nathan Bannister will start for Arizona in the home opener.

Bannister pitched six effective innings and left with the lead in Game 3 of the season-opening series against Rice.

Arizona surrendered two runs in the bottom of the eighth to lose 4-3.

For the season, Bannister has allowed seven earned runs in 10º innings (5.91 ERA). But he has an 8-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and led the Wildcats with seven victories last season.

“He’s ready to go,” Johnson said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

Wednesday’s game marks the 100th meeting between Arizona and Fullerton but the first since March 2010. Fullerton (4-2) is ranked in the Top 25 by the NCBWA (No. 22) and (No. 23).

Inside pitch

  • Johnson used 15 position players and four pitchers in the seven-inning game Tuesday.
  • Center fielder Jared Oliva, who’s batting .179 (5 for 28), also had two hits.
  • Freshman Austin Rubick, who has been struggling to find his form, pitched a hitless sixth inning.


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.