TUCSON, Ariz. – The 10th-ranked Arizona baseball team was down to its final out and its final strike on three occasions in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night. It still had plenty of time to overcome a two-run deficit.
Hitless since the fifth inning, the Wildcats loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the ninth for Brandon Dixon, who delivered a walk-off, three-run triple to complete an improbable comeback in an 8-7 win over visiting San Jose State at Hi Corbett Field. The victory was Arizona’s 10th straight at the historic ballpark and improved the club to 5-1 on the young season.
San Jose State (2-3) seemed to be in control, up two runs and riding the dominant right arm of reliever Kyle Hassna, who had not allowed a base runner since entering with two outs in the sixth. Hassna (1-1), who suffered the loss, quickly retired the first two batters of the ninth before things got away from him and the Spartans.
Arizona’s Scott Kingery was down to his final strike but hit a sharp two-hopper that third baseman Richie Johnson was unable to handle, allowing Kingery to reach base. Riley Moore then drew a walk, as did Johnny Field to load the bases.
Dixon, who drove in the game-winning runs in the national championship-clinching victory over South Carolina last June, stepped in the box and quickly found himself down 0-2. After taking a ball, Dixon roped a slider into the gap in right-center, allowing Kingery, pinch runner David Lopez and Field to come around and give UA the win.
Arizona took an early lead in the third inning when Field blasted a three-run home run to left field. One frame later, freshman Zach Gibbons delivered a two-out RBI single to push the Wildcats’ lead to 4-0.
But suddenly, the momentum shifted, as Arizona starter Konner Wade lost his command after dominating the first four innings.
The Spartans plated five runs in the fifth inning thanks to three key two-out hits. Michael Gerlach singled in two runs, Tim Quiery added a run-scoring infield single and Nick Schulz tacked on another run with a double.
Trailing 5-4, the Wildcats quickly answered. With two down, Field followed up his home run with a bunt single and then stole second. Dixon struck out swinging, but the ball skipped to the backstop, allowing the junior to reach base while Field moved to third. Trent Gilbert followed with one of his three hits on the evening to tie the score at 5-5.
The teams traded zeroes in the sixth and seventh innings before San Jose State got to Wade one more time in the eighth. With two down and two on, Matt Carroll singled in the go-ahead to give the Spartans a 6-5 edge.
One inning later, reliever Tyger Talley hit Quiery with a pitch and Schulz followed with a single. Talley was lifted in favor of Augey Bill, and the Spartans added another run in unconventional fashion. Quiery broke from second on an attempted steal, and Moore, UA’s catcher, had a chance to gun him down at third. But Moore’s throw hit Quiery and caromed down the left-field line allowing Quiery to score and extend the Spartans’ lead to 7-5.
With still just one out, Bill ended up walking Valdez to put runners at first and second. After a wild pitch, both runners were in scoring position, but Bill (2-0), who earned the win in relief, was able to settle in and record a strikeout and a groundout to keep the deficit at two going to the bottom of the ninth.
The decisive rally encapsulated a gritty night for Arizona hitters, as all eight of the Wildcats’ runs scored with two outs. Both Field’s homer and Dixon’s triple drove in three runs with two outs, and Gilbert and Gibbons each had a two-out RBI.
The Spartans were not bad in clutch situations either, scoring five of their seven runs with two outs, but alas did not have the last at-bat.
In 2012, the Wildcats were just 1-17 in games in which they entered the ninth inning trailing, with their one win coming on March 30 in a Friday night game against Stanford. That evening, UA rallied with four runs in the ninth to win by a score of 8-7.
Going back even further, Arizona has a record of 12-304 since the start of 1998 when trailing after eight innings of play. In that span, the Wildcats have 533 total victories but just a dozen when entering the ninth down a run or more.
Neither starter factored into the final decision. For San Jose State, Johnny Melero pitched 5 2/3 innings with five runs allowed on nine hits. Wade tossed 7 2/3 innings with six runs allowed on nine hits.
Offensively, Field finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored and three runs batted in. Dixon went 2-for-5 with the three runs batted in, and Gilbert had a 3-for-4 night at the plate.
The two teams will continue their series Saturday when they meet at 4 p.m. at Hi Corbett Field. Left-hander David Wayne Russo (1-0, 0.00) and righty James Farris (1-0, 1.12) will oppose each other on the mound.