By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The pick-off play, which is rarely executed with success in the college baseball ranks, can be a valuable asset when trying to destroy an opposing rally.
The UA baseball team (11-10-1) used this skill to its full effect in its 5-3 win over New Mexico State (10-5) yesterday at Sancet Field.
Two key turning points in yesterday's game were marked by successfully picking off an unsuspecting Aggie.
With no outs in the first inning, freshman shortstop Erik Mattern and starting pitcher Clay Crossan combined to nullify a lead-off double by picking off Aggie Darrin Morgan. The Wildcats again capitalized off a sleeping Aggie in the eighth inning when Jeff Gjerde tagged out Brian Courtney. This would save the Wildcats a run as the Aggie batter knocked a double down the right-field line on the next pitch.
"Those were key plays in the game for us," said UA coach Jerry Kindall. "Especially the one in the eighth because the tying run was at the plate with no outs."
But an even more encouraging sign for the Wildcats was the solid efforts they received from their pitching staff, especially Crossan. Crossan (2-0) allowed just three runs in 6 1/3 innings to capture the win.
"This is a great confidence-booster for me and our entire pitching staff," Crossan said. "It felt good to go out and throw strikes and see our defense back me up."
A huge defensive play for Crossan came in the top of the fifth. With two on and two out, Aggie Jorge Perez hit an apparent gapper into left-center field. But center fielder Diego Rico flagged it down and made an incredible diving catch to save two runs.
"Diego's catch really pumped me up," Crossan said. "We all knew that he is a great outfielder, but that was amazing."
But Rico took a humble view towards this key grab.
"I went back for it and saw it all the way," Rico said. "I just tell the pitchers to throw stikes and we'll do the rest."
Relievers Kirt Kishita and Jason Frierott came in and blanked the Aggies in their 2 1/3 innings of work. Kishita came in for Crossan with the bases loaded and one out and then forced two pop-ups to escape the grim situation with minimal warm-up time.
"My breaking stuff was working tonight so I felt pretty confident," Kishita said. "I didn't get much warm-up but I luckily loosened up before the game by playing catch."
While the pitchers took care of their end, the Arizona bats came out of hibernation and connected for 11 hits. Leading the charge was Mattern. Following a two-out walk by Jeff McCannon and a double by Jake Thrower, Mattern roped a single to bring in both runners, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
"We needed to start somewhere and I just happened to be the guy to get us going," Mattern said. "He (Aggie pitcher Jaime Mendes) threw me two fastballs that I was a little behind earlier, but I was ready for the third one."
New Mexico State scored two runs in the top of the fourth, but Arizona countered in the bottom of the inning by launching an offensive of their own. A leadoff bunt single by Rico was quickly followed by singles by Colin Porter and McCannon. Thrower skied a sacrifice fly to left field to bring in Porter for their second run of the inning. Their final run came in the fifth inning as a result of a Menno Wickey double, Gjerde single and Chris Cooper sacrifice fly.
The Wildcats will have Jason Ford on the mound to finish their two-game series against the Aggies today at 2:30 p.m. at Sancet. And while it is tough for the Wildcats not to look forward to their series with Arizona State, which begins Friday, Kindall wants his squad to worry about New Mexico State for the time being.
"This was a hard-fought victory and we are expecting another good game (today)," Kindall said. "We can't overlook this game by focusing on Friday."
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