TUCSON, Ariz. — Kevin Newman stole home and Arizona snatched a 7-6 come-from-behind victory from 17th-ranked Rice University to even the three-game series between the schools.
Trailing 6-5 entering the ninth, Arizona benefitted from a series of Rice errors — four to be exact — which helped the Wildcats tie the game and set up Newman’s walk-off heroics.
Scott Kingery sparked the rally when he reached on shortstop Leon Byrd’s errant throw to first.
A bizarre play ensued, which allowed the Wildcats to tie the game.
Zach Gibbons, who had a pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh, safely sacrificed the runners to second and third. However, the play to retire Gibbons at first was close, and second baseman Ford Stainback — rotating to cover first base — lost the ball in a collision while stepping on the bag to force out Gibbons. That allowed Kingery to score the tying run.
With Newman at second base, Riley Moore softly grounded to the right side, but Stainback did not cleanly handle it, leaving runners at the corners for Bobby Dalbec.
Dalbec tapped back to Ditman for the second out while Moore moved to second and Newman held at third base.
That brought defensive replacement Cody Ramer to the plate, but the left-handed hitter never needed to take the bat off his shoulder.
Newman got his momentum moving down the third base line and never got a look from Ditman, who pitched from the windup. His ball low and away was too tough for catcher Hunter Kopycinski to handle as Newman dived head first into home for the winning run.
It was the first successful straight steal of home for the Wildcats since 2006, and it made up for a sloppy first eight innings that put the home side in a hole.
Starter Robby Medel struggled with his command early, giving up two runs in the first. He lasted only 4.2 innings but did not factor into the decision as he left with a 3-3 tie in the fifth thanks to some offensive fireworks that erased the deficit.
In the bottom of the third, Moore belted his second two-run home run of the series, and Dalbec followed with a solo shot to centerfield to tie the game.
Rice (4-3) regained a lead in the sixth inning with two unearned runs off reliever Xavier Borde. With the bases loaded, Ryan Chandler’s sacrifice fly to right was dropped by Tyler Krause, allowing John Williamson and Grayson Lewis to score.
The teams traded single runs in the next two half-innings, which brought the Wildcats to bat trailing 6-4 in the south.
Arizona (6-1) threatened tie or take the lead in the bottom of the seventh, but it left the bases loaded.
With a run on the board and just one out, the Owls put in Ditman to skirt the jam. He did just that, striking out Dalbec and inducing an inning-ending groundout from Handsome Monica.
Releiver Nathan Bannister, who allowed only one run in 2.2 innings of relief, pitched into the ninth inning for the Wildcats. He turned the game over to Dalbec (W, 1-0), who stranded two Owls to keep the deficit one run heading to the bottom of the ninth inning.
Ditman (1-1) took the loss after being charged with two unearned runs in the decisive ninth. He did not allow a hit or a walk in his 2.1 innings on the mound.
The rubber match of the series is set for Sunday.