Arizona stuns No. 2 Stanford with rally in ninth
Arizona’s largest home crowd in four years witnessed one of the most improbable comebacks in school history Friday night, as the Wildcats scored four ninth-inning runs to rally and defeat second-ranked Stanford 8-7 at Hi Corbett Field.
Eighth-ranked Arizona (19-7, 5-2 Pac-12) trailed 7-4 and was down to its final three outs against one of the nation’s top pitching prospects in Stanford’s Mark Appel. But the Wildcats -- backed by a season-high crowd of 4,191 -- had a furious rally in store.
Joey Rickard was hit by Appel’s first pitch of the ninth, and Johnny Field followed with a walk. That signaled the end of the night for Appel, who rebounded from a rough start his previous time out to throw eight-plus innings with five strikeouts.
Reliever David Schmidt (2-1) entered and immediately walked Alex Mejia, bringing the potential winning run to the plate. Schmidt then settled down to strike out Robert Refsnyder on a 3-2 pitch that temporarily deflated the raucous crowd.
Seth Mejias-Brean re-energized the UA faithful with his fourth hit of the game, a single to right field that drove in Rickard. That set up a wild final play of the game.
Bobby Brown bounced a sharp single up the middle that drove in Field and Mejia to tie the score, but center fielder Jake Stewart overran the ball while trying to field it. As Stewart raced to get the ball, Mejias-Brean sprinted all the way around from first base to score the game-winning run.
Brown, who finished 3 for 5 and was credited with two RBIs on the walk-off play, drove in three runs overall. Mejias-Brean also drove in three and tied a career high with four hits to go along with two runs scored.
The late-inning heroics overshadowed a dismal defensive day by both clubs that took the luster off a highly anticipated matchup between Appel and UA’s Kurt Heyer. Neither ace factored into the decision.
Appel gave up four runs on six hits in the first three innings before finding a rhythm that kept the Wildcats scoreless until the decisive ninth inning. Heyer, meanwhile, struck out 11, scattered 10 hits and gave up seven runs in eight-plus innings, although just two of the runs were earned, as Heyer was victim to some uncharacteristic miscues behind him.
Appel, a hard-throwing right-hander, finished with six earned runs allowed with six strikeouts and two walks. He allowed a season-high 12 base hits to the Wildcats, who entered the series leading the Pac-12 in batting average.
Stephen Manthei, who took over for Heyer with a runner on and no outs in the top of the ninth, earned the victory in relief. He retired all three batters he faced and improved to 5-2.
Stanford (16-4, 2-2 Pac-12) struck first with a pair of runs in the second inning, but the Wildcats answered with two of their own to perk up an anxious crowd in the bottom half of the frame. Mejias-Brean delivered a one-out double, Brown tripled and Trent Gilbert laced another double to tie the score at 2-2.
The Cardinal reclaimed a one-run advantage in the third before the Wildcats came back to grab their first lead. Rickard and Field opened the bottom of the third with singles, and one out later, both scored on Mejias-Brean’s second double in as many innings.
Heyer retired eight straight batters before he gave up three consecutive hits in the top of the sixth. The third hit, a tapper back toward the mound with runners on second and third, deflected off his glove. Heyer gathered the ball as it trickled away from him, but his backhanded flip to first was errant and allowed the tying run to score.
Three unearned runs in the seventh seemingly gave the Cardinal a comfortable lead. In the inning, Stanford scored three runs on just one hit after UA’s middle infield combined for three errors. The damage could have been worse, though, if not for Heyer escaping the inning and stranding two runners.
UA committed a season-high five errors and left nine runners on base in the game. But Stanford’s costly error in the ninth – one of three by the Cardinal – proved to be the difference.
The crowd of 4,191 was Arizona’s largest home crowd since March 14, 2008, when UA defeated Cal State Fullerton 8-3. The attendance that day at Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium was announced as 4,250.