Arizona Wildcats pitcher Konner Wade had been sick for a couple of days, saying he felt “kind of dead” in terms of energy.
It didn’t show Friday night. His marathon 126 pitches against USC helped UA stay kind of alive in the chase for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Andy Lopez pushed Wade for 9 1/3 innings before turning to closer Mathew Troupe, who got two outs with one pitch and picked up the victory when Zach Gibbons singled home Kevin Newman from second base with one out in the bottom of the 10th.
Arizona won 4-3 to improve to 32-21 overall and 13-15 in the Pac-12.
With victories Saturday night (6 p.m. start at Hi Corbett) and Sunday (noon), the defending national champion Wildcats can at least make something of a case to be included in the postseason field.
“They’ll sleep better tonight,” Lopez said of his team, “then we have to come back tomorrow and play good baseball again.”
On Friday night, Wade wasn’t dominant like he was in the 2012 postseason, but it was one of the junior’s best starts of the season. He scuffled through the first inning — going 3-0 to the first hitter, hitting a batter and unleashing a wild pitch — but settled in after that.
Wade allowed 11 hits, but didn’t walk any Trojans while striking out one.
“He just had better location,” Lopez said.
“It’s not brain surgery. If you want the ball on the outer half, you have to get the ball on the outer half. If you want the ball on the inner half, you have to get the ball on the inner half. If you do that, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting outs.”
Arizona’s defense was pretty good, too.
Troupe, who entered the game with a runner on first and one out, needed only one pitch in the 10th. Adam Landecker hit a shallow fly to right toward the line, and Scott Kingery charged in to make a diving catch and double up the runner at first.
Kingery also was involved in a heads-up play in the ninth. Timmy Robinson blooped a single past diving first baseman Joseph Maggi in the hole, and then took a huge turn at first base. Kingery got the ball and fired to Wade, who had slipped behind the runner and was covering first base.
That provided the extremely rare 9-1 putout in the scorebook.
“I don’t think I have ever seen that play,” Wade said. “That was heads-up by Kingery. That guy was way off (the base). Luckily, I was over there covering the bag.”
Kingery was one of three freshmen who had a huge hand in the victory.
Freshman shortstop Kevin Newman reached base to start the 10th on a hit by pitch. Riley Moore’s sac bunt moved Newman to second before freshman left fielder Zach Gibbons singled to center, his fourth hit of the game. Newman slid into home just in front of the tag.
Out of habit, Lopez mistakenly referred to Gibbons as “Gibson” in his postgame interview.
“I’ve been calling him Gibson for the last two weeks, just messing around with him, telling him, ‘See, that’s how poor you are, I don’t even know your name,’” Lopez said.
In the fifth inning, Newman gave Arizona a 2-1 lead with a two-run single to left after USC starter Bob Wheatley intentionally walked Brandon Dixon to load the bases with two outs. Dixon entered the game as the Pac-12′s leading hitter with a .370 average.
“I bet they regret it now,” Newman said of walking Dixon.
“But Dixon is obviously a phenomenal hitter. From their perspective, it was probably the right thing to do. From our side, it was a game-changer and it worked out for us.”
Now, Arizona will turn to junior right-hander James Farris (4-5) to keep the momentum going Saturday night and continue whatever heartbeat the Wildcats have for the postseason.
“Momentum is who shows up on the mound tomorrow,” Lopez said. “That’s baseball.”