Very rarely does a big matchup in sports ever live up to the hype; well so far this series is doing just that. The No. 17 Arizona baseball team was able to hang on to clinch a 10-8 win over the No. 21 Rice Owls Tuesday night after the Wildcat bullpen gave up eight unanswered runs in the final four frames.
"It was almost like two games out there, if the game would have ended in the 5th inning it would have looked great, but hey we got it done at the end," said UA head coach Andy Lopez.
Arizona (6-1) had the bats going early, scoring three runs in first two innings and piling on five more in the 4th inning, thanks to a slew of walks and a two out single by Josh Garcia that drove in two runs. Before the 6th inning the Wildcats had an 8-0 lead and were on their way to an easy win; or so they thought.
Rice (5-4) started working on the comeback of all comebacks in the top of the 6th frame when Arizona reliever Konner Wade gave up a lead off walk, a single, and then another walk to set the stage for disaster after pitching a flawless 4th and 5th inning.
Arizona still had a chance to get out of the inning in pretty good shape however, as Wade retired the next two betters thanks in part to fantastic diving grabs by Bryce Ortega at second base and Robert Refsynder in right field.
Two runs scored and that would be it for Wade, as freshman Daniel Ponce de Leon would enter the game to try and get one out for the Wildcats. It wouldn't happen though, as instead he gave up an RBI single and then walked in another run to make it an 8-4 game.
Matt Chaffee would come in for Arizona and give up one more run on a Derek Hamilton single up the middle to make it 8-5 in favor of the Cats heading into the 7th frame.
The Owls weren't done either, tacking on three more runs in the 7th and 8th innings to tie the game. With the bases loaded for Rice and one out in an 8-8 ball game, Wildcat closer Bryce Bandilla fired in a 94 MPH fastball that Daniel Gonzales-Luna chopped right to Ortega, who did what he does best, starting the inning ending double play.
"I felt good out there," Bandilla said. "I was a little too amped up at first, but that double play was absolutely huge."
Then it was Arizona's turn and the Wildcats did what good teams are supposed to do when faced with adversity: they respond.
Joey Rickard led the bottom of the 8th off with a walk, which eventually saw him at third base with two outs after a Cole Frenzel sacrifice bunt and a stolen base.
Refsynder then sealed his 3 for 4 night, ripping a two out double down the left field line, driving in what would end up being the game winning run.
"I saw a lot of off-speed stuff tonight, I guessed curveball and I was right," said Refsynder. "I mean it was just a huge win overall for us, the Pac-10 is loaded, so we really just have to take advantage of these out of conference games."
After Garcia extended the lead, driving in Refsynder from second with a triple, Bandilla stayed in to finish the deal in the ninth.
"Once I saw that we got that run in the eighth, I knew this thing was over," Bandilla said. "There was no way I was going to let anyone on or score any runs, and that's how it worked out."
Arizona will now aim for the short sweep of the Owls Wednesday night, when Kyle Simon takes the mound for the Cats on three days rest. First pitch is at 6 p.m. (MST) at Jerry Kindall Field.
Arizona relievers Nick Cunningham and Vincent Littleman are still sidelined due to injuries, both are listed as day-to-day.
"Yeah both these guys are really big parts of our pitching staff, so it's tough," said Lopez. "But they shouldn't be out for any long extended period of time, they're just both day-to-day right now. "
Arizona hangs on to win
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