PULLMAN, WA - In its simplest form, baseball is a game of pitch and catch.
That proved true Sunday afternoon in a tense rubber game between Arizona and Washington State that was scoreless into the 11th inning.
Inexplicably, a dropped fly ball allowed two unearned runs to score and hand the Wildcats a 2-0 series-clinching victory over Washington State at Bailey-Brayton Field.
Arizona (27-18, 11-13 Pac-12) scored the two runs without the benefit of a hit against Cougar closer Ian Hamilton. The rally started when Hamilton hit Kevin Newman with a pitch, and a ground out advanced Newman to second base.
The Cougars then intentionally walked Bobby Dalbec, who was batting as the designated hitter after starting the game on the mound. The walk brought up defensive replacement Casey Bowman, who had just one career at-bat some 14 months ago.
Bowman worked the count full, then lofted a routine fly ball toward right field. Center fielder Cameron Frost drifted toward the falling fly and, instead of right fielder Wes Hatten catching the ball, Frost ranged over where dropped the ball.
Newman and Dalbec circled the bases for the first two runs of the game, as Frost's error proved costly.
Interestingly, the Cougars had shifted their outfielders at the start of the inning. Hatten came in to right as a defensive replacement, which pushed Frost over to center and Derek Chapman to left field.
Washington State (25-21, 8-13) battled back in the bottom of the 11th against Arizona closer Tyger Talley, who gave up two hits and hit a batter to load the bases with two outs.
But the right-hander settled in and induced a game-ending ground out from Wes Leow, handing the Cougars their first series loss in over a month.
The two starting pitchers turned in one of the best pitching duels of the season.
In his fourth career start, Dalbec tossed eight-plus shutout innings in which he struck out six and scattered five hits. The right-hander faced the minimum through the first four innings of the game, and his lone walk was an intentional pass.
Dalbec's counterpart, Ryan Walker, was nearly as impressive. The freshman pitched seven complete innings, allowing two hits, a walk and striking out seven.
Talley (W, 5-0) combined for three innings of shutout relief, allowing three hits and a walk.
Hamilton (L, 0-3) suffered the loss for the two unearned runs allowed in the 11th. Otherwise he pitched three innings with just one hit allowed, though he walked two.
Neither team put a runner on second base until the sixth. The Cougars had some chances early, but a double play ended one inning and catcher Riley Moore threw out two potential base-stealers, which allowed Dalbec to face the minimum through four innings.
Walker retired 12 in a row at one point, only broken up by a two-out double from Scott Kingery.
Like the 11th frame, the Cougars threatened in the ninth and 10th innings, too. But Talley hunkered down to strand seven total runners in his three innings of work.
The victory improved the Wildcats road record to 7-5 in Pac-12 action. The club returns home for a three-game series against Washington next weekend at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz.
GAME NOTES: Sunday's marked the second extra-inning game this season for Arizona (previously lost 6-4 to Rice on Feb. 22) … The last UA game to enter extra innings with a 0-0 score was on May 20, 2011 (1-0 loss at Stanford) … The Wildcats have an extra base hit in 34-consecutive games … Bobby Dalbec set career highs for innings pitched (8.0) and strikeouts (6). He also walked three times as a hitter, a new career-high … Arizona has now won the season series in Pullman in each of the last three visits (also 2009 and 2011) … JJ Matijevic had a six-game hit streak snapped ... Dalbec and Tyger Talley combined for UA's fourth shut out this season, including second on the road in Pac-12 action (March 22 at Stanford) ... Arizona's last extra inning road win came at Utah (6-1) on April 5, 2014.