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Wildcats Aim for Series Split on Sunday

Feb 17, 2021

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TUCSON, Ariz. — The Arizona Wildcats (1-2) and Ball State Cardinals face off in the final game of a four-game series on Monday morning at Hi Corbett Field. First pitch is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. MST with a free live webcast available at

Arizona, led by sixth-year head coach Jay Johnson, enters the season ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Wildcats feature a strong core of returning players that's bolstered by the fourth-best recruiting class in the nation.

Ball State, skipped by ninth-year head coach Rich Maloney, went 7-9 in 2020 before the season was halted. The Cardinals return their top three hitters and multiple contributing pitchers from last year's squad.

A complete series preview is below.

Date Time (MST) / Result Arizona Pitcher Ball State Pitcher
Friday, Feb. 19 W, 3-0
Saturday, Feb. 20 L, 7-8 (11)
Sunday, Feb. 21 L, 2-5
Sunday, Feb. 22 10:00 AM RHP TJ Nichols (0-0, -.--) RHP Ty Johnson (0-0, -.--)

Leading Off...

  • The No. 22 Wildcats kick off the 2021 season with a four-game series against the Ball State Cardinals this Friday-Monday at Hi Corbett Field. This will be the first meeting between the two programs.
  • Arizona head coach Jay Johnson enters his sixth season leading the Wildcats. Since 2016, Johnson has steered Arizona to a record of 163-96 (.629), giving him the second-best winning percentage of any head coach in the Wildcats modern era (1950-current).
  • The 2021 season begins with the Wildcats ranked in every major national preseason poll. Arizona was tabbed as a Top 15 team by Collegiate Baseball (No. 10), Perfect Game (No. 11), and Baseball America (No. 15). They also earned Top 25 nods from the USA Today Coaches Poll (No. 19) and D1Baseball (No. 22).
  • The Wildcats have won 12 consecutive season openers and 17 straight home openers. Arizona's last Opening Night loss was a 9-7 decision on the road at Georgia in 2008. Their last home opener loss was a 6-3 defeat at the hands of BYU in 2003. Under the direction of head coach Jay Johnson, the Cats have out-scored their home opener opponents by a combined score of 36-11.
  • Dating back to the 2019 season, the Cats have gone 23-6 (.793) over their last 29 games. Over that stretch they have won seven series.
  • The Wildcats 163 wins since 2016 are the third-most in the Pac-12 Conference, behind only Oregon State (187) and Stanford (169).

SOME SERIES THEMES: Arizona opens the 2021 season 348 days after playing their final contest of the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign...The Wildcats went 10-5 last year and had the remainder of their season canceled before reaching Pac-12 Conference play...Friday marks the beginning of the sixth year of the Jay Johnson era for Arizona Baseball...Under coach Johnson the Wildcats have gone 163-96 and compiled the third-most wins in the Pac-12 since 2016...This weekend will be the first-ever games played between Arizona and Ball State, making the Cardinals one of four opponents the Wildcats will face for the first time in 2021 (also: Dallas Baptist, Dixie State, SE Louisiana)...Arizona enters the year ranked in every major national preseason poll; they checked in at No. 10 from Collegiate Baseball, No. 11 by Perfect Game, No. 15 with Baseball America, No. 17 from the NCBWA, No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, and No. 22 by D1Baseball...The official poll used to determine the rank of Arizona and their opponents remains the D1Baseball poll...The Wildcats return 26 players from last year's squad, including eight position players who earned starts and 11 pitchers who made appearances during the shortened 2020 season...Included in the Wildcats group of returners are right-handed pitcher Chandler Murphy and outfielder Mac Bingham, both of whom were tabbed as 2020 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-Americans...Arizona's incoming class of freshmen and transfers was ranked No. 4 in the nation by D1Baseball in January, giving the Cats the highest-ranked incoming class of student-athletes on the West Coast...Ball State is led by head coach Rich Maloney, who begins his ninth season in his current stint leading the Cardinals; Maloney also skipped Ball State from 1996-2002...The Cardinals finished the 2020 season with a record of 7-9 and never reached conference play...Ball State returns their top three hitters from 2020 along with the 2019 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, Chase Sebby...The Cardinals top returning starting pitcher, John Baker, went 1-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 22.1 innings last year.

LID LIFTER: Arizona boasts a long run of success in season openers, having won 12 consecutive lid lifters dating back to the 2009 season. Under the direction of head coach Jay Johnson the Wildcats have gone 5-0 and out-scored their opponents by a combined score of 42-12 in the first game of the year. Arizona's last opening day loss was a 9-7 decision at Georgia in 2008. Even more impressive is the Wildcats streak of victories in home openers, with the program currently boasting 17 consecutive wins in home openers, dating back to their days playing on campus at Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium. In home openers under coach Johnson, Arizona has collected three shutouts: a 4-0 decision over Bryant in 2018, a 6-0 win over Eastern Kentucky in 2017, and a 2-0 triumph over Cal State Fullerton in 2016. The last time the Wildcats lost a home opener came in 2003, when the visiting BYU Cougars came away with a 6-3 victory. Finally, the Wildcats have won 25 conescutive season-opening series — the last time Arizona dropped their first series of the season came all the way back in 1994, when they went 1-2 at home against New Mexico. During that two and a half decade stretch, the Cats have collected 13 series sweeps, including four sweeps in five tries under coach Johnson.
Opening Day/Series Results under Jay Johnson

Year Opponent Opening Day Opening Series
2020 Albany W, 12-7 W, 3-0
2019 UMass Lowell W, 12-4 W, 4-0
2018 Bryant W, 4-0 W, 3-0
2017 Eastern Kentucky W, 6-0 W, 4-0
2016 at Rice W, 8-1 W, 2-1

CATS COACHES: Head coach Jay Johnson remains at Hi Corbett Field for his sixth season leading the Wildcats. During his five years in Tucson, Johnson has steered Arizona Baseball to an impressive 163-96 (.629) overall record and a 62-59 (.512) mark in Pac-12 Conference play. The 163 wins compiled by coach Johnson and the Wildcats since 2016 are the third-most in the Pac-12 over that stretch, behind only Oregon State (187) and Stanford (169). Coach Johnson is joined by second-year associate head coach Nate Yeskie, sixth year assistant coach Dave Lawn, and sixth-year volunteer assistant coach Marc Wanaka. The Arizona coaching staff's credentials are impeccable, with coaches Johnson, Yeskie, and Lawn having combined to develop 15 conference Pitchers of the Year, 12 Players of the Year, 11 Freshmen of the Year, and four Defensive Players of the Year. That same group has combined to steer their team to 20 NCAA Regional appearances, eight NCAA Super Regional berths, and six trips to the College World Series. In addition to their unparalleled success at the collegiate level, Arizona's coaches have steered a staggering number of their players into the professional ranks. Coaches Johnson and Yeskie have combined to produce 58 Major League Baseball Draft picks, 31 of which were taken in the first ten rounds, while coach Lawn alone has developed 22 players who have gone on to make it to MLB.

OPENING NIGHT ACES: For over a decade, the Wildcats have enjoyed dominant starting pitching performances on Opening Night. Since 2010, Arizona starting pitchers have posted nine quality starts and struck out 83 opposing batters across 71.2 innings. Every starter has pitched at least five innings, with six going seven or more — none have allowed more than three runs.
Opening Night Starting Pitching Results since 2010

Year Opponent Starting Pitcher Final Line
2020 Albany Garrett Irvin 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 7 K
2019 UMass Lowell Randy Labaut 5.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 5 K
2018 Bryant Cody Deason 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 K
2017 Eastern Kentucky J.C. Cloney 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 6 K
2016 at Rice J.C. Cloney 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 9 K
2015 Eastern Michigan Austin Schnabel 6.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 8 K
2014 Kent State James Farris 7.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 9 K
2013 Coppin State Konner Wade 6.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 8 K
2012 North Dakota State Kurt Heyer 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 7 K
2011 North Dakota State Kurt Heyer 7.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 8 K
2010 Utah Valley Kurt Heyer 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 13 K

RUNNING WILD: Arizona has scored at least one run in 109 straight games — they have not suffered a shutout loss since falling 1-0 at Washington on March 17, 2018. The Wildcats 109-game scoring streak is the longest active streak in the Pac-12 and 25 more games than the next closest team, UCLA (84 games). Over the course of their 109-game scoring stretch, Arizona has been held to three runs or fewer just 16 times. On the flip side, during the streak they have scored five or more runs 50 times. UCLA and USC — the teams with the second- and third-longest scoring streaks, respectively  — were both last shut out by pitching staffs coaches by current Arizona associate head coach Nate Yeskie.
Active Pac-12 Scoring Streaks

School Scoring Streak Last Shutout Loss (Score)
Arizona 109 games March 17, 2018 at Washington (0-1)
UCLA 84 games May 24, 2018 at Oregon State (0-2)
USC 76 games May 18, 2018 vs. Oregon State (0-4)
Stanford 63 games March 7, 2019 vs. Texas (0-4)
Oregon 33 games April 20, 2019 vs. Stanford (0-10)
Washington State 24 games May 11, 2019 vs. UCLA (0-10)
Arizona State 14 games Feb. 15, 2020 vs. Michigan (0-5)
Utah 5 games Feb. 28, 2020 at UT Arlington (0-6)
California 4 games March 4, 2020 vs. Michigan (0-5)
Washington 1 game March 7, 2020 vs. Utah Valley (0-1)
Oregon State 1 game March 7, 2020 vs. UCSB (0-4)

POLL POSITION: The Wildcats enter the 2021 season as a unanimously ranked team, earning Top 25 nods from every major national preseason poll. Arizona is ranked No. 10 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 11 by Perfect Game, No. 15 by Baseball America, No. 17 by the NCBWA, No. 19 by USA Today, and No. 22 by D1Baseball. This is the fifth consecutive year that Collegiate Baseball has included Arizona in their preseason poll, and the program's highest mark from the outlet since the 2017 squad entered the year ranked No. 7. The only other Pac-12 program earning a preseason ranking from D1Baseball is UCLA, who checked in at No. 2.

THE OUTSIDERS: Under head coach Jay Johnson, the Wildcats have dominated non-conference opponents to the tune of a sparkling 102-38 (.729) record, giving them the second-best non-conference winning percentage in the Pac-12 behind only Oregon State (.763). Their mark is even better at home, with a non-conference mark of 60-13 (.822) at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona's last non-conference series loss came at Houston in February 2019 — the Wildcats went 1-2 against the Cougars in Houston. They have not lost a home non-conference series while coach Johnson has led the team — their last home series loss to a non-conference opponent was a 1-2 record against Rice in February 2015. In the weeks leading up to Arizona's first Pac-12 Conference series each year under coach Johnson, the Wildcats have combined to go 55-24 (.696).
Non-Conference Winning% in the Pac-12 since 2016

School W-L Win Pct.
Oregon State 103-32 .763
Arizona 102-38 .729
Stanford 89-37 .706
Arizona State 80-44 .645
UCLA 84-47 .641
Oregon 72-45 .615
Washington 70-49 .588
California 64-47 .577
USC 62-54 .534
Washington State 46-56 .451
Utah 43-60 .417

HOME SWEET HOME: Since 2016, the Jay Johnson-led Wildcats have routinely defended their home, Hi Corbett Field, to the tune of a 101-33 (.754) record. During that stretch, spanning five seasons, they have never lost more than 10 home games in a single campaign. Arizona's home winning percentage of .754 is the second-best mark in the Pac-12 Conference since 2016, behind only Oregon State (.771). Both the Arizona hitters and pitchers have taken advantage of the friendly confines of Hi C over the last five years: The offense has combined to hit .326 with an average of 8.8 runs per game at home (road: .274 AVG and 6.0 R/G), while the pitching staff has posted a 3.81 ERA at home (road: 4.83 ERA).
Home Winning% in the Pac-12 since 2016

School W-L Win Pct.
Oregon State 91-27 .771
Arizona 101-33 .754
Stanford 106-36 .746
UCLA 98-41 .705
California 74-40 .649
Washington 74-46 .617
Oregon 73-46 .613
Arizona State 92-58 .613
USC 68-62 .523
Utah 45-42 .517
Washington State 49-50 .495

TOP 4 CLASS NOTE: Arizona Baseball checked in at No. 4 in D1Baseball's Newcomer Rankings released in January, giving the Wildcats the best incoming class of student-athletes on the West Coast. The prep portion of the class is highlighted by outfielder Chase Davis (No. 34), catcher Daniel Susac (No. 41), and right-handed pitcher/infielder T.J. Nichols (No. 89), three outstanding high school products who ranked among the top 100 players in last spring's Prep Baseball Report Top 500. They are joined by a trio of outstanding transfers in outfielder Tanner O'Tremba (Texas Tech), right-handed pitcher Austin Smith (Southwestern), and right-handed pitcher Chase Silseth (Southern Nevada). Four additional Arizona newcomers from the high school ranks landed among the PBR Top 500 last spring: Outfielder/right-handed pitcher Kyle Casper (No. 211), third baseman/first baseman Jacob Berry (No. 214), first baseman/left-handed pitcher TJ Curd (No. 272), and right-handed pitcher Ryan Kysar (No. 484).

ON THE OFFENSIVE: Before the 2020 season was shut down, the Wildcats offense was once again showing the signs of dominance that have become common place under head coach Jay Johnson. Through 15 games played, Arizona was hitting .288 with a .437 slugging percentage and .417 on-base percentage while averaging 7.5 runs per game. Six of the Wildcats regular starters were hitting well over the .300 mark, five of which will return to Arizona's lineup this season.
Arizona 2020 Offensive Pac-12 Ranks

Category Stat Rank
Batting average .288 2nd
Slugging percentage .437 2nd
On-base percentage .417 1st
Runs Scored 113 2nd
RBI 106 2nd
Doubles 30 T-1st
Triples 6 T-3rd
Home runs 12 2nd
Total bases 217 2nd
Walks 97 T-1st
Stolen bases 20 1st

#THEENGINE: Outfielder Donta' Williams, one of the elite defensive center fielders in college baseball and a consistent leadoff hitter, returns to the Wildcats for his fourth season in 2021. Through three campaigns in Tucson, Williams has combined to hit .275 (96x349) with 100 runs scored, 16 doubles, nine triples, three home runs, 59 RBI, and 68 walkouts against just 81 strikeouts. In the field, Williams has posted a career .987 fielding percentage, committing just three errors in 114 games. Following the 2019 season, during which he posted a stunning .993 fielding percentage in 56 games, Williams was selected to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team — he was the first Wildcat selected to the All-Defensive Team in two years. Williams' performance at the plate has steadily improved during his time with Arizona, leading to a breakout performance during the shortened 2020 season in which he hit .348 with 22 runs scored, five extra-base hits, 14 RBI and more walks (15) than strikeouts (8) in just 15 games.

MY CLOSER VINNY: Senior right-handed reliever Vince Vannelle will be one of the Arizona pitching staff's most important pieces in 2021. The Dublin, Ohio native has posted two strong seasons for the Wildcats since transferring from Florida Southwestern. Vannelle sports a career 2.90 ERA (16ERx49.2IP) in Tucson to go with four saves and a 3-2 record. During five appearances in 2020, Vannelle posted a stingy 1.35 ERA, two saves, and a 13.5 K/9 rate while holding opposing hitters to a .152 batting average. Vannelle was tabbed to the Perfect Game Preseason All-Pac-12 team heading into the 2021 campaign.

SOUTHWEST SOUTHPAW: Junior southpaw Garrett Irvin, the owner of an undefeated 4-0 record in 2020, returns to the Wildcats this year to bolster the team's starting rotation. Across four starts last year Irvin notched a 3.18 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .238 batting average while striking out 28 in just 22.2 innings. Perhaps most impressive was Irvin's ability to control the run game — in just four outings he logged seven pickoffs, the most by any Power 5 pitcher in the country and three more than the next closest player.

RYANAIR: After a promising freshman season in 2019, outfielder Ryan Holgate was in the middle of an astounding breakout campaign in 2020 before the season was cut short in mid-March. Through 15 starts last year, Holgate led the Wildcats and ranked eighth in the Pac-12 with a .377 batting average. Add to his eye-popping average 11 runs scored, seven extra-base hits, 12 RBI, a .547 slugging percentage, and a .459 on-base percentage. The slugging outfielder was tabbed to the Perfect Game Preseason All-Pac-12 team and fingered as the No. 14 outfielder in the country in D1Baseball's preseason outfielder rankings.