(photo by Craig Jackson)
OMAHA, Neb. – Arizona entered the College World Series on quite a roll, despite being on the road for the better part of five weeks. The last thing Miami wanted Saturday night in Game 2 of the CWS was to give the Wildcats any extra help.
Arizona took advantage of two walks and two hit batters in the first inning to help stake Nathan Bannister to a 3-0 lead, and Bannister took care of the rest by allowing one run over seven innings and tying a season-high with 11 strikeouts as the Wildcats cruised past the Hurricanes 5-1.
Miami will face UC Santa Barbara in an elimination game on Monday afternoon; Arizona, which has won 13 of 14 and allowed a total of 31 runs in those wins, will square off against Oklahoma State later that evening.
Hurricanes starter Michael Mediavilla (11-2) struggled with his command at the outset, walking leadoff batter Cody Ramer and hitting Zach Gibbons. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, the lefty struck out Bobby Dalbec and inched closer to escaping the inning. But he hit JJ Matijevic to load the bases and walked Kyle Lewis on four pitches to give the Wildcats (45-21) a 1-0 lead.
Jared Oliva then punched a 1-2 offering down the right-field line to score two more, but Lewis ran through a stop sign at third base and was easily thrown out on a relay from Willie Abreu in right to Johnny Ruiz, who fired to Zack Collins at the plate.
“I just had trouble finding command, trying to do too much,” Mediavilla said. “And I just deviated from everything I told myself to do, which is not try to do too much, and I did. I let them break it open in the first inning.”
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Bannister (12-2) went to work, setting the tone in the first inning by pounding the zone in a 1-2-3 frame.
Miami (50-13) started a troubling trend in the second by taking two called third strikes, the second coming with runners on first and second with two outs. The Hurricanes totaled 14 strikeouts, eight looking, including two in the fourth, the only real time they had Bannister on the ropes.
Brandon Lopez doubled to open the inning, and Ruiz walked to put the Canes in business. Bannister got Willie Abreu (2 for 4) looking before Jacob Heyward (2 for 4) bunted perfectly down the third-base line for a hit to load the bases. Christopher Barr drove in one with a liner to right, but another called third, this time to Edgar Michelangeli, and a grounder to short by Carl Chester ended the threat.
“We didn’t get that big hit, it’s frustrating when you leave guys on,” Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said. “We took three third called third strikes in key situations. They were good pitches. They made good pitches. But we got to get our hacks in in that situation.”
Meanwhile, Arizona was making the most of its two-strike opportunities.
Louis Boyd opened the fifth with a double and moved up on Cody Ramer’s single. Zach Gibbons delivered a two-strike double – he was thrown out at third on another steady relay by Miami – down the line in right to plate two for a 5-1 edge.
“Honestly, sticking to what we’ve been doing the whole year, just laying off pitches in the dirt,” Gibbons said of the Wildcats’ approach. “And making him give us our pitch, not swinging at his pitch. I think that’s really important.”
Morris added, “It was 3-0, we came back and got one run, the momentum kind of changed a little bit. We got to go right back out there and stop them, and we didn’t.”
From there, Bannister mixed and matched and got three more called thirds in the sixth and seventh. He bent a little, giving up three hits and a walk over those frames, but did not break. Zack Collins had a double but was doubled-up when Brandon Lopez’s liner up the middle was caught by Ramer at second, who was hovering near second while holding the runner and stayed shaded up the middle.
In the seventh, with runners on first and second and two outs, Bannister got Lopez looking for his final strikeout of the night.
“I thought he handled the situation very well… I thought he was a little nervous early on,” Arizona coach Jay Johnson said. “I think scoring runs helped. I think he settled in really well. He can just throw any pitch in any count at any time.”
Cameron Ming struck out three and allowed one hit over the final two innings as Arizona improved to 14-5 against lefties and 23-7 over its past 30 games after a 22-14 start.