UA rallies, stuns St. John's in 10th in Game 1
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It’s the moment every baseball player dreams of.
Bottom of the last inning. Bases loaded. Game on the line.
Arizona freshman Trent Gilbert lived it Friday and came through, hitting a walk-off single to right-center to give the Wildcats a wild, come-from-behind 7-6 win over St. Johns in the first game of the Tucson Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field.
"I want to bat in that situation," Gilbert said, "and win the game for us."
He did, giving him the biggest hit of his young UA career. Or one would presume.
"It’s up there, yeah," he said.
So, what’s bigger?
"I guess it was this one," he said to a laughing media.
"How old are you?" Arizona coach Andy Lopez asked. "Eighteen? I have shorts older than you."
There will be plenty of big-game hits for Gilbert in the future, but none thus far have been than the one he delivered Friday, with UA now just one game shy of reaching its first College World Series since 2008.
The Wildcats (41-17) and Red Storm will play Game 2 at noon Saturday.
The walk-off victory was UA’s fifth this season and third in the last seven games at Hi Corbett. It took two rallies and some timely hitting to get it, but they did.
St. Johns outhit and outplayed Arizona for the first four innings, jumping out to a 5-0 lead with a five-run, seven-hit fourth inning against UA ace Kurt Heyer. Lopez called it the "most productive" outing against Heyer in a long time.
"After that five-run inning, it just didn’t seem like we could do anything," said St. Johns coach Ed Blankmeyer. "Now, it’s character time. We have to come out there and play."
Blankmeyer said his team came in with the right approach but let Arizona off the hook with three bad plays in the outfield on what he said were catchable balls. With the Cats down 5-2 going into the sixth inning, they rallied for three runs, the biggest of those coming on a Johnny Field fly ball that was dropped by Kyle Richardson.
Equally frustrating for Blankmeyer was that St. John's finished with an 18-11 advantage in hits.
"Eighteen hits and losing the ballgame is kind of tough," he said. "... We just didn’t finish the deal."
The Red Storm had just one double among their 18 hits, not being able to put Heyer away at any point. Heyer was pulled after 9 1/3 innings when he gave up a single to start the 10th.
"I was fine," Heyer said of the long day. "In this part of the season, you can’t get tired. Coach Lopez knew I wanted to go out for the 10th. Once he gives me the ball, I don’t want to go out."
Heyer didn’t get the decision but certainly did his part after the fourth inning. Lopez called it a "courageous effort" and "one I will remember for the rest of my life."
Lopez may also remember the look Heyer gave him when he headed to the mound in the 10th after deciding to bring in reliever Mathew Troupe to finish the inning following an RBI double by Sean O'Hair that put St. John's ahead 7-6.
"He gave me a nice, warm and fuzzy invitation when I went to get him," Lopez said. "I appreciate that."
Troupe gave up a single to left field off the bat of Zach Lauricella, but Johnny Field gunned down O’Hare at the plate, setting UA up for its decisive at-bat.
"We had that guy on the ropes," Blankmeyer said of Heyer. " I think he could have pitched forever. We had our chances."
And the Wildcats took advantage of theirs, tying the score at 6-6 on Bobby Brown's RBI single before Gilbert lined his shot into right-center off reliever Kevin Kilpatrick to win it.
He said he was just looking to make contact and get the ball in the air to stay away from the double play, as he has all season.
Lopez said all freshmen go through a learning process that includes a survival state, an improvement state and then a win state.
"There was a time when he was in the survival stage (this season)," Lopez said. "He’s been improving is and now in the win stage. It’s a maturing process. But it’s to nice to see it come to fruition."