As Arizona fans began to chant after a four-run first inning, it seemed as though the number one team in the country’s season would come to a premature close. With the way the first game of the Super Regional was decided, however, a four hour game seemed fitting.
In a back-and-forth battle, Miami (51-9) held on to defeat Arizona (42-18) 14-10, sending the series to a deciding third game tomorrow evening.
“A sign of a good team – always battles even when you’re down four or eight,” Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso stated after the game.
It felt like déjà in the first inning when the Hurricanes stranded two runners after a Jemile Weeks walk and Alonso single with one out. Mark Sobolewski and Ryan Jackson – who failed to reach base last night – both flied out to right to end the threat.
In the bottom half, Arizona made Miami pay with four straight hits with two outs, including a two-run home run off the bat of C.J. Ziegler deep to left. Rafael Valenzuela reached on an error by Jackson and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Brad Glenn fanned for the second out, Jon Gaston- last night’s hero- doubled in the first run and Ziegler followed with his 20th dinger of the season.
“It felt good going out in front like we did,” Ziegler explained. “We can’t change anything that we’ve been doing and we just need to put ourselves in good positions.”
Luckily the bats that stepped up all year for Miami came to life in a key fourth inning when Wildcat starter David Coulon faced trouble finding the strike zone. The Hurricanes sent 12 batters to the plate and capitalized with six runs on five hits and four walks to take a 7-4 lead.
“I was going out there and throwing strikes,” Coulon said. “Those walks really caught up with me.”
Jason Hagerty blasted a two-run shot to left after Dennis Raben led off with his second walk – he would go on to tie an NCAA record with six free passes on the night – and Alonso connected on his 22nd homer of the season to right to bring home three on a two-strike count.
“He left me a changeup middle in,” Alonso explained. “It barely got out and I was very happy about that [after last night].”
The Wildcats came right back in the bottom of the inning with three runs of their own as rain began to fall. Starter Eric Erickson appeared to get out of his groove with the long half-inning and was taken out after walking the leadoff man T.J. Steele and giving up an RBI single to Mike Weldon.
Reliever David Gutierrez (5-0), who would pitch four innings for the win, allowed a sacrifice bunt to advance Weldon to third and an RBI groundout to Valenzuela with two outs to tie the game at seven apiece.
Miami’s offense produced four runs to regain the lead at 11-7 aided by two homers off reliever Mike Colla (4-3) who took the loss – a solo shot on the first pitch of the sixth by Sobolewski who went 3-for-6 and a three-run dinger off the bat of Yasmani Grandal, the ninth batter.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch,” Grandal said. “He gave it to me and I got a good swing on it.”
Home plate umpire Jim Garman began to hear it from Canes fans in the bottom half when he called three close pitches balls to ring up Gaston who turned on the 3-2 pitch for a two-run homer for his second in as many games to right to cut the deficit to three at 12-9.
Arizona continued to chip away at Miami’s lead when Valenzuela blooped an RBI two-out single to right with Raben shifted towards opposite field. Reliever Kyle Bellamy struck out the tying run Glenn to end the eighth and keep the score at 12-10.
With the infield in with one out and a runner at third, Jackson pulled a ball that went between third baseman Glenn’s legs and under the glove of the left fielder for two errors. An insurance run scored on the play and with runners on first and second with two outs, defensive replacement Adan Severino ripped a single to right to score Jackson for the 14-10 lead that wouldn’t be relinquished.
“It was a really sloppy night,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “We put ourselves in a tremendous amount of situations.”
Closer Carlos Gutierrez came back from a tough outing last night in which he gave up the game-winning home run in the 11th to Gaston for a scoreless ninth to finish the game.
“I felt good in the ninth with Carlos on the mound,” Sobolewski said. “They battled all game like we did. That’s why we play nine innings.”
Sunday night’s rubber match is set to start at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on WVUM (90.5 FM) and WQAM (560 AM). The scheduled matchup is between Miami’s Enrique Garcia (6-2, 4.80 ERA) and Arizona’s Eric Berger (8-3, 4.43 ERA). The winner will advance to Omaha for the College World Series.
“Biggest win of the year for us,” Miami head coach Jim Morris stated. “It puts the pressure back on them and swings the momentum towards us.”
Christina De Nicola may be contacted at email@example.com.