The UC Irvine Baseball team played its first home series this weekend against 26th-ranked California. The Anteaters (2-1) showed their true grit to beat an excellent Cal team 4-3 on Feb. 14.
The second of a three-game series, UCI played the Bears (4-4) Saturday night at Anteater Ballpark in front of an audience of 714.
‘This was the best game we’ve ever played here at Anteater Ballpark,’ said Head Coach John Savage. ‘I am so proud of these guys.’
The starting pitcher for the Anteaters was talented left-handed junior Glenn Swanson, who made his first appearance of the season. Swanson’s first outing on the mound was an exciting one. After walking Cal sophomore designated hitter Allen Craig on a full count, Swanson proceeded to pick him off at first base on his very next throw.
Cal Head Coach David Esquer took exception to the call at first and proceeded to openly discuss his thoughts with home umpire Ron Ridd. Thus, the atmosphere was set for an exciting game.
Swanson proceeded to strike out two in the second with a wicked slider that always seemed to find the corners and allowed just five hits in five innings, allowing no runs in the process. He struck out four in the game.
The Anteater hitting went three and out in the first thanks to outstanding pitching by Cal junior right-hander Kyle Crist, who pitched seven-and-a-half innings. However, the dam that was the Cal pitching staff would soon show signs of a leak in the bottom of the second.
After base hits by senior designated hitter R.J. Brown and junior leftfielder Jordan Szabo, sophomore rightfielder Danny McCarthy drove in the first run of the game with a solid base hit up the middle gap. After this promising second inning, the Anteaters would go three-and-out for the next five innings.
In the top of the sixth inning, sophomore right-handed pitcher Chris Nicoll took over the reins of the Anteater defense. He struck out his first batter in Golden Bear senior catcher Chris Grossman and retired two more, ending the inning with the shutout intact.
Nicoll had just two base hits against him in three innings, along with three strikeouts.
In the bottom of the ninth the UCI bats started to turn around. Crist walked junior first baseman Brett Dalton. Then Irvine senior second baseman Matt Fisher launched a rocket base hit down right field bringing Dalton to third. The Bears retired Kyle Crist and brought on reliever sophomore Cameron Johnson who pitched one ball to Irvine sophomore slugger Matt Anderson. Unfortunately, Anderson hit right into a double play, which promptly ended the inning and the scoring opportunity.
In the top of the ninth, Anteater closer, Jimmy Alstot, a junior right-hander, came on the mound for the Anteaters. After hitting Bear sophomore Robert Nesbitt, Alstot faced the Bears’ power hitter in junior leftfielder Justin Nelson.
One errant pitch went over catcher sophomore Mark Wagner’s head and Nesbitt found himself at second, with his team trailing by just one run.
A full count walk of Nelson would prove to be an even more precarious situation for the closer. A bunt by Golden Bear junior third baseman Matt Einspahr would move runners to second and third.
Freshman right-hander Blair Erickson then came on the mound to relieve Alstot. Unfortunately for the Anteaters, a base hit by senior shortstop Jeff Dragicevich tied the score at one all.
Erickson managed to get out of the inning alive, however, striking out his last batter and sending the game into extra innings. After going three-and-out in the bottom of the ninth, the Anteaters were in desperate need of some of the batting brilliance they flashed in their first two games of the season.
A double by Cal senior rightfielder Robert Horowitz to open the 10th inning spelled disaster for the Anteaters. A stand-up triple from freshman catcher Garrett Bussiere scored one run for the Golden Bears. A suicide squeeze later, the Bears were up 3-1 and the proverbial dagger was placed in the heart of an Anteater team struggling to get on base.
But still, out of the darkness came a huge two-out rally, as a base hit by junior outfielder David Kennedy and a base hit by Dalton led the way for an improbable double by Matt Fisher to tie the score at 3-3.
Pandemonium erupted at Anteater Ballpark and the game went into its 11th inning, with Anteater junior right-hander Steve Schroer pitching. Schroer pitched a gorgeous 11th inning, allowing one hit and recording two strikeouts. Another Anteater three-and-out followed. Schroer fanned two more Bears in the 12th and the game remained 3-3 going into the bottom of the 12th.
A base hit by sophomore third baseman Jaime Martinez and a bunt by junior outfielder Andy Amara put a runner in scoring position with no outs in the inning.
A sacrifice bunt by Dalton moved Martinez to third, poised to score. With the bases loaded and two outs, Cal closer Jesse Ingram walked Wagner to score pinch-runner Herman Reddick, making the score 4-3 for an Anteater victory.