The Arizona Wildcats baseball team, with two surprising pitching performances on Saturday, moved within one game of winning an NCAA regional in College Station, Texas.
Arizona defeated Seton Hall 6-0 on Saturday afternoon behind the three-hit, seven-inning pitching of freshman Konner Wade, and the Wildcats came back later with a 7-4 win over host Texas A&M as Nick Cunningham was brilliant in relief of injured starter Tyler Hale.
Arizona will take on the Aggies again Monday at 4:35 p.m. Tucson time. The winner advances to next week’s Super Regional.
Cunningham, a sophomore, pitched 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball after entering in the third inning after Hale was hit on the right elbow by a line drive. It was the longest outing of Cunningham’s career, and his first appearance in nearly in a month.
He last pitched May 8 against Alcorn State — not that coach Andy Lopez remembered.
“It’s horrible coaching, but I really cannot remember the last time I pitched him,” Lopez said in his postgame news conference (transcript).
“As I told these guys a few days ago, one of you guys who hasn’t pitched in six months is going to have to and get a few outs. Obviously, he did a marvelous job. We got a couple key hits, and we’re still alive.”
Cunningham allowed two hits and four walks. He had pitched only 16 1/3 innings over 14 appearances before Sunday. But with Arizona coming through the loser’s bracket and playing its fourth game in three days — and with Hale leaving early — his performance was exactly what the Cats needed.
Cunningham appeared in a team-high 35 games last season, but hasn’t been as big a part of the pitching rotation this season.
“It’s real poor coaching on my part that I haven’t gotten him as many appearances as he did last year,” Lopez said. “To his credit, he’s stayed very positive, worked hard and waited for the situation. The situation came in College Station.”
Said Cunningham (1-0): “I knew that our bullpen was going to have to step up and do something special this weekend. I saw Tyler get hurt, and I knew I had a good chance of coming into the game. Coming into the game, I just knew I needed to throw strikes. And that’s about it, just threw strikes and we got the win.”
Earlier Saturday, Wade went seven-plus innings to improve his record to 3-0. That tied for his longest outing of the season.