The Arizona Wildcats baseball team took the opening game of their series with Arizona State in dramatic fashion Friday night, winning 1-0 when Seth Mejias-Brean doubled in Robert Refsnyder with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Cats then got some help from their friends in Corvallis as Oregon State beat Oregon to move Arizona into a first-place tie with the Ducks with two games remaining in Pac-12 play.
Ace pitchers Kurt Heyer of Arizona and Sun Devil Brady Rodgers matched zeros for eight innings. ASU made solid contact against Heyer early but the junior right-hander was able to strand five runners in scoring position in the first five frames.
“(ASU) hit a couple balls right on the screws, right at people,” Arizona coach Andy Lopez said. “(Heyer is) like an infielder that makes an error but they don’t ever score when he makes the error.”
“We just made really great defensive plays,” said Heyer. “We did all the little things very well and that’s what got us the win.”
One of those little things was taking advantage of a big ballpark. After Refsnyder’s one-out single in the bottom of the ninth, ASU head coach Tim Esmay brought in his closer, hard-throwing Jake Barrett. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound righty threw just two pitches as Mejias-Brean lined an 0-1 offering into the left field corner.
As Refsnyer approached third, UA base coach Matt Siegel tried to hold him up but the junior ran through the stop sign. The relay throw was up the first-base line and Refsnyder slid in with the winning run.
“As soon as I saw it past the third baseman I knew I was going to score,” Refsnyder said. “I’m sure Siegel would’ve killed me if I got thrown out.”
Lopez said, “If he’s safe it’s a good move.”
Give Hi Corbett Field an assist. In a smaller park the ball doesn’t roll as far and ASU shortstop Deven Marraro might not be as rushed and maybe Refsnyder feels the wrath of his coach.
Lopez said his players’ familiarity with their home field was a factor. “I think they’re really comfortable in the yard now. They have a good feel for what they’re doing.”
If you drew up the perfect fan-friendly college baseball game, this would be it. Premium starting pitching, solid defensive plays, action on the bases, the home team winning on the final play and post-game fireworks. All in a crisp two hours and 14 minutes. Cheer your team on to a thrilling victory and still get the kids to bed on time.
The Cats are now back to controlling their destiny in the race for the program’s first Pac-12 championship since 1992. After losing the head-to-head series with Oregon, the UA can’t ask for anything more. The challenge now is avoiding a letdown and duplicating this performance against a rival with just two games left in its season.
Refsnyder expects the Sun Devils to rebound on Saturday. “They’ve been the cream of the crop,” he said. “They’ve really set the standard for collegiate baseball.”
“They know how to bounce back. They know how to win games.”
Konner Wade takes the ball for Arizona and the sophomore will be matched up against Trevor Williams who, statistically, has been ASU’s best pitcher.
“Hopefully Wade sets the tempo early, throwing strikes,” Refsnyder said.
The bar has definitely been raised for UA hurlers. In the last two games against ASU, Wildcat pitchers have kept the Sun Devils from scoring in 17 of 18 innings.
The Cats got help in the Pac-12 race Friday night but not on the NCAA regional front. Cal State Fullerton continued to apply pressure by posting a 4-0 victory in its series opener at Long Beach State. Arizona may have had fireworks but the Wildcats haven’t crossed the finish line.
“We have a lot of work to do for the rest of the series,” Heyer said, “but right now we feel like we just won the World Series. It feels amazing.”
“We just have to put this one behind us, come back tomorrow and battle again.”
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