RIVERSIDE, Calif. ?- Arizona’s all-time saves leader Mark Melancon has pitched so well in relief for the Wildcat baseball team through the first five games this year that he appears to have worked his way out of his closer job. The right-hander tossed the final 4 2/3 innings to help Arizona even its three-game series with UC Riverside at one win each in a 4-2 UA victory at the Riverside Sports Complex on Saturday.
The win improved Arizona to 3-2 on the year while UC Riverside dropped to 4-2 with the loss.
“It’s a tough call with Mark,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “Take today for example, it’s nice knowing that you’ve got an arm like his waiting in the bullpen when the game is tight. But he is a ?'Friday Night’ guy that can go out with the best pitchers in the country and compete. He’s proven that, and I think he deserves a shot at it.”
Leading 3-2, Melancon (1-0) entered the game in the bottom of fifth and completely shut down the UCR offense. The junior gave up just two hits, walked one and struck out five to pick up his first win of the year.
He worked around both base hits he surrendered, stranding the game-tying run at third in the seventh and striking out the final two hitters looking in the contest after giving up a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
For the season, Melancon has limited the opposition to a .080 batting average while punching out seven hitters in 7 2/3 innings.
It appeared early that the Arizona offense might carry the day on Saturday, as it got after UCR starter D.J. Smith (0-1) for three runs on five hits in the first two innings of the game to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
UCR cut the Wildcat lead to one with a pair of runs in bottom of the second and reliever Pat Cassa, who transferred to UCR from Arizona State after the 2004 season, entered the game with two outs in the top of the second and put a cap on the Wildcat bats until the ninth inning.
Arizona starter Mike Colla did not earn a decision despite giving up just two runs on eight hits. Colla walked just one and struck out two in his second career start, but worked just 4 1/3 innings on the day and did not qualify for the win.
Offensively, Jason Donald opened the scoring for Arizona with a run-scoring double in the first that scored Brad Boyer all the way from first. Konrad Schmidt drove Donald home two batters later with a single to left to stake UA to a 2-0 lead after the first frame.
Freshman T.J. Steele tacked on another run in the second with a RBI-single to plate Stephen Pearson from second for a 3-0 Arizona advantage.
The Highlanders, who finished with 10 hits on the day, cut into the Arizona lead with two runs on four hits in the bottom of the second. UCR’s Jeff Dunbar and Brett Bigler came through with a pair of two-out hits to put the Highlanders on the board.
The Wildcats added an insurance run for a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth on Jon Gaston’s single to right to plate Steele from second.
Steele led Arizona with a 2 for 4, two-double afternoon at the plate. He drove in one run and scored another. Boyer and Schmidt each added two hits in the game to help Arizona to 10 base knocks total.
The two schools will meet up for the rubber game of the three-game series on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tucson time. Junior Brad Mills will make his first career start for the Wildcats on the mound.