The University of Arizona had two roads in this year’s post-season that would lead to a college world series. Both turned out to be dead-ends..
A week ago, Arizona’s softball team fell short of getting back to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, unable to punch their ticket to Oklahoma for the fifth straight season. The women made it to the final step before earning a spot at this year’s WCWS, but lost to Baylor in the super regional they hosted.
And yesterday the Wildcat baseball team found the road to Omaha even more challenging, failing to get out of the regional round of the NCAA Tournament in Lubbock, Texas.
For the men, the nemesis was Sam Houston State. The Cats lost to SHS, 5-4, in the opener of the three-game series, then staved off elimination by beating Delaware in a rain-delayed game that went 12 innings and lasted just a shade over four hours before Alfonso Rivas used a two-out home run to give the Wildcats the 6-5 win to avoid elimination.
But a second shot at the Bearkats yesterday afternoon in the series finale ended badly.
Sam Houston wasted no time in taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning and then exploding for eight more insurance runs in the second. Arizona tacked together three runs over the next seven innings, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the 9-3 loss that sent them packing for Tucson instead of preparing for another super regional appearance.
Sam Houston State was on a mission this year, not just to reach the super regionals and, hopefully, to earn a berth in the College World Series, but to revenge last year’s regional loss when Arizona eliminated the Bearkats on the way to an eventual berth in the College World Series.
That trip to Omaha, the 18th time a UofA team had made it to the CWS, ended in a runner-up finish for the Wildcats after losing in the final to Coastal Carolina. It was a classic case of over-achievement for a team that had been picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12 Conference, playing under a first-year head coach, Jay Johnson.
The Cats finished the 2016 season with 49 wins, but this year’s squad topped out at 38-21. Their selection to play in the NCAA Tournament marks the school’s 39th appearance, and third in the last six years. Arizona hadn’t been to the post-season since 2012, but now it’s the only program in the Pac-12 to make back-to-back appearances.
JJ Matijevic used yesterday’s game to earn a place in the school record books. The junior infielder from Pennsylvania doubled in the ninth inning for his 30th of the season, which ties him for most doubles in a single season. He also finished the season with 40 extra-base hits, the most by an Arizona player in the last 12 years.
And Cesar Salazar and Louis Boyd made major contributions at the plate, each picking up a pair of hits and an RBI.
Johnson started his big (6’3″) right-handed sophomore, Cody Deason, who eventually wound up with the loss to run his season record to 5-3. Before the seventh inning ended, four relievers had been called to the mound.
They put a lid on the scoring. But the damage had been done.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)