SCOTTSDALE —When is one greater than three? When the former happens in the postseason.
Daniel Susac homered twice and Arizona’s bullpen approach did just enough in an 8-6 win over Oregon in the opening game of the inaugural Pac-12 Baseball Tournament on Wednesday morning at Scottsdale Stadium. The victory avenged a three-game sweep to the Ducks last weekend in Eugene to end the regular season.
“It’s tough to beat a team four times,” UA coach Chip Hale said.
Fifth-seeded Arizona (36-21) advances to a Thursday matchup against the winner of the tourney’s second game, between No. 1 Stanford (37-14) and No. 8 ASU (25-30). That game is scheduled to begin at 4:45 p.m. PT but is dependent on when Thursday’s earlier games go.
The UA collected 11 hits against an Oregon staff had limited it to 10 runs last weekend. Susac, Chase Davis and Garen Caulfield each had multi-hit games, with Susac going 3 for 4 and Caulfield putting Arizona on the board first with a 2-run home run in the second.
Caulfield’s home run landed on the grassy berm just to the right of the Arizona bullpen, while both of Susac’s bombs went over the pen. The first put the Wildcats up 3-0 in the third, while his 2-run homer in the ninth gave them an 8-5 lead.
“They were both just good pitches to hit,” said Susac, who is tied for 10th in school history with 30 multi-hit games this season. “I think both of them, they tried to go inside on me. One was a 3-1 count, one was 0-1, I tried to get the head out and get out in front of it.”
Susac, who has 90 hits and raised his average to .369, said he and his teammates came into the Pac-12 tourney with a fresh outlook after ending the regular season poorly at Oregon.
“Our motto in the clubhouse was Happy New Year,” he said.
Arizona only trailed once, after Oregon’s Anthony Hall smacked a 3-run shot off the foul pole down the right field line to give the Ducks a 5-4 lead in the sixth, but it immediately scored twice in the top of the seventh despite only one hit that frame.
Mac Bingham led off with a single, then Nik McClaughry was hit on the brim of his helmet by an inside pitch when he was trying to lay down a bunt. Susac walked, forcing Oregon (35-22) to change pitchers, and Tanner O’Tremba took an off-speed pitch to the back to score the tying run before Davis hit a sacrifice fly to put Arizona up for good at 6-5.
“We came in the dugout after the sixth and said win the last three,” Susac said. “That’s been our mentality all year. If we’re going to make a deep run in the playoffs, we’re gonna have to win a lot of last three.”
Susac’s second homer gave the Wildcats a 3-run lead. Oregon got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and scored a run off closer Trevor Long but he got the last two batters without much stress.
Long was the last of six pitchers used by Arizona, which opted to go with a bullpen approach for its first Pac-12 game rather than move up one of its regular starters. Dawson Netz, who returned after more than a month off with an inning of relief last Thursday at Oregon, went the first 2.2 innings.
He retired the first seven men he faced before allowing singles to two of the next three Ducks. The second hit came after Hale had gone to the mound to pull his starter only to leave him in after being convinced by Netz and his infielders.
“As much professional baseball as I coached, I let a college player talk me out of it,” Hale said. “So, not real smart.”
Lefty Javyn Pimental allowed singles to the next two hitters, cutting Arizona’s lead to 3-2, before throwing a clean fourth inning. Chris Barraza pitched a scoreless fifth but with one out in the sixth got into trouble via a walk and a double.
Hale opted to stick with the right-handed Barraza against a lefty hitter—“our right-handed pitchers are actually better matchups against their lefties, believe it or not, Hale said”—but the move backfired. Hall swung at the first pitch from Barraza to put Oregon ahead.
“We were confident in Chris, he just made a bad pitch,” Hale said.
Lefty Eric Orloff came on to finish the seventh, picking up the win after Arizona went back ahead the next half-inning, then Quinn Flanagan threw two scoreless innings before Long closed things out. Flanagan worked himself into and out of trouble in both frames, allowing four hits but also striking out Oregon’s Drew Cowley with a runner on third and one out in the seventh and getting two fly outs with a man in scoring position in the eighth.
“Quinn’s just so composed and he’s so good at finding his zone,” Susac said. “You never really see him scuffle. He has one bad batter he’s right back to it. It’s tough to give a reliever Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, but the clutch Pac-12 pitcher of the year has to be Quinn Flanagan.”
Arizona will turn to its most effective starter, senior lefty Garrett Irvin, for Thursday’s winner’s bracket matchup. Hale said the decision to go with Irvin (5-3, 2.65) over struggling righty TJ Nichols (5-4, 5.47) was made regardless of how Arizona did in its first game.
“I think Garrett gives the team confidence,” Susac said. “We know he’s gonna go out there, he’s gonna compete, all the way through, however long he goes, he’s gonna fill up the zone. And even if he has a bad first inning, like we’ve seen before, he’s gonna settle in.”