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. It still had plenty of time to overcome a two-run deficit.
Hitless since the fifth inning, the Wildcats found a way to load the bases before Brandon Dixon delivered a walk-off, three-run triple to complete an improbable comeback in an 8-7 win over visiting San Jose State on Friday night 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 a comfortable position, up two 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 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 to allow Kingery to reach base. Riley Moore then drew a walk, as did Johnny Field who worked the count full before reaching base.
Dixon, who drove in the game-winning runs in the national championship-clinch game last June against South Carolina, 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 clear the bases with the final runs.
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.
The suddenly, momentum shifted. 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 back. 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 backstop and allowed 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 game 5-5.
The teams traded scoreless sixth and seventh innings, before San Jose State got to Wade one more time. 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 and Moore, UA's catcher, had a chance to gun him down at third. But Moore's throw actually hit Quiery and caromed down the left field line allowing Quiery to score and push the Spartans' lead to 7-5.
With still just one out, Bill ended up walking Valdez to put runners at first and second. Then 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 a two-run margin for the Wildcats.
The decisive bottom of the ninth-inning epitomized a gritty night for Arizona hitters. The three runs with two outs in the night capped a performance that saw all eight of the Wildcats' run score with two outs. Both Field's homer and Dixon's triple drove in three runs with two outs, and Gilbert and Gibbons each had 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.
Arizona's win came when trailing after eight innings, always a precarious situation. In 2012, the Wildcats were just 1-17 in such games, with their one win coming on March 30 in the Friday night game against Stanford. That evening, UA rallied with four runs in the ninth to win by a familiar score: 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 the 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 innings with five runs allowed on nine hits. Wade tossed 7.2 innings with six runs allowed on nine hits.
Offensively, Field finished 2-for-4 with three runs 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 try to match the suspense on Saturday when they meet at 4 p.m. (MST) 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.