OMAHA, Neb. – It was another dominating pitching performance for the Wildcats.
Junior JC Cloney tossed a four-hit shutout as Arizona blanked Coastal Carolina 3-0 Monday evening in Game 1 of the Championship Series of the 2016 College World Series in front of 20,789 fans at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Wildcats (49-22) need just one more win to capture their fifth national championship. The Chanticleers (53-18) must win Tuesday and Wednesday to take home their first title.
Cloney (8-4) walked three and struck out six in twirling his second complete game of the season.
“Coach [Dave] Lawn and all of these coaches have a good plan of what they want to do,” Cloney said, “and our job is just to go out and execute it. They watched a ton of film to see what these guys do. It was just establishing the fastball in the inner half and outer half and then mixing some changeups in here and there and throwing other offspeed stuff.”
He also forced CCU into 14 outs by ground balls.
“I think it’s just throwing the changeup, keeping it down, keeping the fastball down,” Cloney said. “I think the changeup was a real reason why there were so many ground balls, and it felt real good tonight.”
Cloney did not allow a leadoff hitter to reach until the eighth. He did not allow two runners on at the same time until the ninth. And it also took until that final frame for the Chants to get a runner to third.
“There’s two things I think that come to mind when you talk about what makes him him,” UA head coach Jay Johnson said of Cloney. “Number 1 is his mental disposition, his ability to block out everything else that’s going around him and just focus on getting a good visual of the target and attacking the mitt. And he can do that with three or four pitches.
“Secondly, he’s an impressive-looking guy. His lower half looks like he should be playing defensive tackle for [football] coach [Rich] Rodriguez, and that matters and it allows him to hold his stuff throughout the game and he doesn’t drop off very much.”
Cloney retired the first seven hitters he faced before a base hit by Billy Cooke in the third. Cooke was erased when he was picked off and thrown out at second. David Parrett followed with a walk, but a fielder’s choice ended the frame.
“Cloney was very good,” CCU head coach Gary Gilmore said. “He was moving the ball on both sides of the plate, throwing cuts, breaking balls, you name it, and locating. I don’t think we hit a ball square the entire first six innings.”
Tyler Chadwick had a leadoff single in the eighth for CCU, but did not advance as a pair of long flyouts and a strikeout thwarted the threat.
Anthony Marks had a leadoff single in the ninth and moved to second when Zach Remillard reached on a bunt single. Following a meeting on the mound, Cloney rolled a 4-6-3 double play to put a runner on third with two away. Cloney fanned GK Young looking to secure the shutout.
Cloney now has a pair of outstanding starts in the CWS, following seven shutout innings against UC Santa Barbara last Wednesday. In two starts, Cloney has hurled 16.0 scoreless innings with nine hits, five walks and eight strikeouts.
“I think he wanted to kill me last [Wednesday] against Santa Barbara when he hadn’t given up any runs,” Johnson said. ” I went up to talk to him in the eighth, to give him reinforcement on something, and he was like: Get away from me.”
Arizona started the scoring in the top of the first. Cody Ramer ignited the rally with a ground-rule double to left. He moved to third on a groundout by Zach Gibbons and came home on a base hit by Ryan Aguilar to give the Wildcats. Following a walk to JJ Matijevic, Zack Hopeck fanned the next two hitters to keep it a 1-0 game.
The Wildcats added to their lead in the seventh. Cesar Salazar had a leadoff single and was sacrificed to second by Louis Boyd, ending the night for Hopeck. Cole Schaefer came in and threw a wild pitch to move Salazar to third. Following a walk to Ramer, Gibbons delivered a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Salazar with UA’s second run. Ramer moved to second on the flyout and scored on a base hit by Aguilar as the Cats went up 3-0.
Ramer reached base four times, going 2 for 3 with two walks and two runs. Aguilar had two hits and two RBI for the ‘Cats.
Hopeck (3-4) suffered the loss, working a career-high 6.1 innings with five hits, two runs, three walks and five strikeouts.
“I thought I threw pretty well,” Hopeck said. “I missed a few spots and they took advantage, no doubt. It’s tough when you lead off a game with a ground rule double like that. But basically I bounced back and I tried to do the best I could, give it all for my teammates.”