Brandon Dixon treats his role as late-game defensive replacement and pinch runner like most of his fellow college students approach weekends.
The fun doesn't start until after 8 p.m., often later.
The Arizona Wildcats' sophomore infielder watches the first four innings of every game from the bench, cheering on his teammates. He hustles to the Wildcats clubhouse in the fifth, where he stretches and prepares. When there's a break in the action, Dixon runs sprints down the first base line.
"I just try to stay into the game as much as I can," he said, "from the bench."
The preparedness served him well Friday night - in fact, it was the difference in fourth-ranked Arizona's 4-3 win over No. 17 UCLA at Hi Corbett Field.
Dixon, a pinch runner, scored from second base on Joey Rickard's eighth-inning single, allowing the Wildcats to escape with a one-run win in front of 4,080 fans. The UA (24-9) out-hit the Bruins 12-8 and stranded 11 runners but still managed to improve its conference record to 10-3, best in the Pac-12. UCLA (22-8, 8-5) fell to third place in the conference behind Oregon, which beat Stanford in 10 innings.
UA coach Andy Lopez called it "a great college baseball game," even if the showdown had its fair share of miscues. UA ace Kurt Heyer balked in a run - "It was a brain fart," he said - and Wildcats catcher Riley Moore was called for a passed ball that allowed UCLA to tie the game in the sixth inning.
Arizona's luck evened out in the eighth. With one out, Arizona's Joe Maggi reached - and then advanced to second base - when shortstop Pat Valaika committed a throwing error on a routine ground ball. Dixon was then summoned to pinch-run for the slower Maggi, a scenario that Lopez had discussed in the dugout during the previous half-inning.
"It's one of those rare things when it's talked about the inning before, and then it works out and you're like, 'Hey, that's pretty good,'" Lopez said. "We had to get a big hit, too, from ol' Rickard."
One batter later, Rickard - the Wildcats' junior leadoff man - ripped a single to right field, setting up a play at the plate. Dixon arrived just as catch Tyler Heineman received Jeff Gelalich's throw and was called safe - though it was close.
"I was shutting my eyes. I didn't want to watch," Heyer said. "I heard he scored and was like, 'Wow, ninth inning, here we go.'"
Heyer worked a 1-2-3 final frame, though it didn't come without some drama. Pinch hitter Chris Keck ripped a two-out single to right field, but was thrown out by Robert Refsnyder when Keck tried to stretch it into a double.
Heyer surrendered two earned runs and eight hits in nine innings. He struck out two while walking one. The ace improved to 6-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.09.
Arizona will face UCLA again tonight at 6 with a chance to secure its sixth consecutive conference series, dating to 2011.
• What: UCLA at Arizona at Hi Corbett Field (games on 1290-AM)
• Friday: Arizona 4, UCLA 3 (game to be televised Sunday at 4 p.m. on FSAZ)
• Today: 6 p.m.
• Sunday: Noon