Two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Arizona-Arizona State. Game tied. Runner on third. The Wildcats needing a win to clinch at least a share of their first conference title since 1992. The Pac-12′s leading hitter, left fielder Johnny Field, at the plate.
Sun-drenched days at Hi Corbett Field don’t get much better, more dramatic — and for Arizona — much better than this.
Field, who entered the game hitting .379, delivered by poking a hit over the glove of leaping ASU third baseman Michael Benjamin. Riley Moore strolled in from third for the 8-7 victory, threw his helmet in the air and soon joined the rest of the Wildcats who were mobbing Field between first and second base.
“I had so much adrenaline at the time, I don’t think I even felt one punch,” a smiling Field said after the game.
Field knocked in the winning hit off right-hander Robert Ravago, from Pueblo High and Pima Community College.
“He is a sinker, slider guy, so I knew I had to get something up,” Field said.
“He threw fastball, fastball and then I saw him slow his arm down a bit on the slider, and it was up high enough for me to get my barrel on it. It was actually a decent pitch, and I made a kind of ass-out swing, but I got my barrel on it — just enough to get over his head.”
Arizona finished the regular season at 38-17 and 20-12 in the Pac-12, winning the season series from ASU, 3-2. The Wildcats began the day tied for first with Oregon and UCLA. The Ducks lost to Oregon State on Sunday, but the Bruins ended up beating USC later in the afternoon to share the title with UA.
Arizona jumped on Arizona State early, leading 7-1, before having to rally late in front of 2,927 at Hi Corbett Field.
“We made it interesting, didn’t we?” said coach Andy Lopez. “Man, oh man, did we make it interesting.
“But I told these guys about two weeks ago, ‘At this time of the season you’ve already claimed your identity. And you’re identity is you don’t give up.’ So, they did a good job today.”
UA chased Sun Devils starter Alex Blackford with one out in the first inning. The Cats used four hits and two ASU errors to take a 4-0 lead, chasing Blackford after 34 pitches. Robert Refsnyder, Bobby Brown and Joseph Maggi had RBI singles in the inning, and Blackford hurt his own cause with a throwing error on a play that likely would have started an inning-ending double play.
After their big first inning, the Cats kept pouring it on. They added a run in the bottom of the second on a two-out single by Seth Mejias-Brean, who drove in Field from second base. Field led off the inning with a single and went to second on a wild pitch.
Arizona made it 7-1 in the third inning. Moore, who led off with a single, eventually scored on a wild pitch by reliever Joseph Lopez. Alex Mejia drove in Joey Rickard from second with a two-out single.
But Arizona starter James Farris ran into trouble in the fifth inning, falling one out short from qualifying for the victory. Lopez brought in Mathew Troupe after ASU used four hits to close within 7-4.
Troupe walked the first batter he faced, Nathaniel Causey, on a 3-2 pitch but retired Benjamin — the potential tying run — on a grounder to third to end the inning.
ASU continued its momentum in the sixth, with Abe Ruiz singling sharply up the middle with two outs to drive in Kasey Coffman from second base to make it 7-5.
In the seventh, Troupe walked the leadoff batter, Max Rossiter, on four pitches, which was enough for Lopez, who went to Tyler Hale. Hale shut down any potential threat by retiring the next three batters, the last two on strikeouts.
The Wildcats’ offense was stymied by 6-8 lefty reliever Adam McCreery, who pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings, before leaving with two outs in the seventh and a runner on third. Ravago came in to retire Rickard on a grounder to shortstop.
Hale walked leadoff batter Andrew Aplin in the eighth, which prompted another pitching change. Lopez went Stephen Manthei, who hadn’t pitched in three weeks. He couldn’t find the plate, walking his first batter on four pitches.
Arizona got the first out of the inning by picking off Aplin at second base. Arizona lured Aplin further off the bag when shortstop Mejia, who had been holding Aplin close to the base, slid back to a more normal defensive position, while second baseman Trent Gilbert snuck in on the back side, taking Manthei’s throw and tagging out the runner diving back to the bag.
ASU wasn’t deterred, following with a single by Joey DiMechele and a two-run double down the right-field line by Ruiz, who tied the game at 7. After Ruiz went to third on a wild pitch and James McDonald was intentionally walked, Rossiter grounded into a huge 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
“That was a monster,” Lopez said of the double play. “I felt the momentum had jumped over there … I really felt that that kind of swung it back our way.”
UA squandered a scoring chance in the bottom of the inning. With runners on first and second with one out, Mejias-Brean hit a soft liner to second base and Brown struck out.