A series in the Pac-10 is always going to be an important one, but this one is imperative for an Arizona club that had dropped four of its first six games coming into Friday night's series opener against No. 13 California.
For 8.2 innings it looked as if the Wildcats were headed for another loss against a formidable conference foe, but a three-run bottom of the ninth, capped with Jett Bandy walk-off single to left field gave Arizona the 5-4 win and its second walk-off win in it's last six games.
"It was a total team win, I just happened to be the lucky guy at the plate to get the hit," said Bandy.
The Wildcats trailed 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth after the Bears were able to take advantage of a bases loaded situation against Kurt Heyer in the top of the frame, scoring two runs on an Austin Brooker single through the right side.
Arizona's half of the ninth didn't start promising, as Johnny Field popped up to second base to start it off. But a series big substitutions paid off for the Wildcats, as Bobby Brown got things going with double over the centerfielder's head, followed by an Alex Mejia walk that started with an 0-2 count.
Just three days after getting carried off the field due to severe cramps, Josh Garcia entered to pinch hit for Bryce Ortega, who had already homered earlier and had two hits on the night.
Garcia dumped an 0-1 pitch right over the third basemen's head, which brought both Brown and Mejia around to score after Cal left fielder Austin Brooker slipped trying to retrieve the ball.
"Somehow I just got that lucky hop I guess," said Garcia. "Someone up there was definitely pulling for me tonight."
Bobby Rinard then entered to pinch run for Garcia, which ended up being the third substitution of the inning that paid serious dividends for the Wildcats, as Rinard eventually scored the game winning run two at bats later.
If it would have been someone with any less speed standing at second base, the runner probably would have been thrown out, as the throw to the plate from left field actually beat Rinard, but an elusive slide around the backside of the catcher was just enough to keep the game from going to extras.
"As soon as (Bandy) hit it I knew it was going to be down and obviously at that point in the game we had the tie so I knew I was going to be waived home," Rinard said
Kurt Heyer turned in another solid outing, as he went 8.2 innings and allowed three earned runs, while punching out 11 in the no-decision. Joey Rickard, Cole Frenzel, and Bandy combined for seven hits to cap off what coach Andy Lopez called a "total team win."
"The Pac-10 really doesn't get enough credit nationally, that match up tonight was as good as any match up you'll see nationally," said Lopez. "I was really proud of the way we bounced back tonight."
However, Arizona has been in this spot before. Against Arizona State and Oregon State the Wildcats won the series opener, but couldn't win either of the next two games. Kyle Simon will take mound Saturday night to try and make sure that trend doesn't continue.
"I like this group, they compete hard, said Lopez. "They're going to be okay, when it's all said and done."
Late heroics lead Wildcats
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