The UC Irvine Baseball team was eager to sweep its first inter-division Big West Conference series against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos on April 10 as the Anteaters took the first two games of the series. However, the unusually foggy and overcast game would be all too foreboding for the Anteaters, as the usually potent UCI offensive and pitching staff struggled under the fog to find their rhythm.
UCI (22-7-1, 2-1 Big West) failed to sweep UCSB (21-12, 1-2) in the series, as the Anteaters lost to the Gauchos 8-2 at Anteater Ballpark.
Head Coach John Savage defined the best of the series in this way: ‘Clearly our pitching and our defense is our biggest strength as a team. With 27 [strikeouts] and four walks it should be clear to everyone that we can pitch. Today we just didn’t execute in the batters’ box and that hurt us tremendously.’
Hitting the baseball was once the Achilles heel of the Irvine team. Recently, however, it has become one of its greatest assets. The Anteaters have been smoking balls all across the cavernous Anteater Ballpark outfield and coming into Saturday’s game, it looked as if this trend would continue. Unfortunately for Irvine, it was the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos who would be teeing balls off in Anteater Ballpark.
UCI sophomore starting pitcher Chris Nicoll started off unusually shaky in the first two innings. After opening the game with two walks, two wild pitches, three hits, three sacrifice plays and only one strikeout, he closed out the top of the third inning emphatically with a strikeout of Gaucho right fielder junior Matt Wilkerson, leaving a man on third woefully disappointed.
After four innings and two earned runs, Nicoll was shelved in place of talented freshman left-hander David Huff. Huff would give up a base hit to, ironically enough, Wilkerson in the fifth inning that would score senior Gaucho first baseman Greg Powers. In the top of the sixth inning, UCI junior middle reliever Michael Koehler came on the mound and gave up a triple to UCSB freshman shortstop Chris Valaika. After an ensuing sacrifice hit, another run was scored making the game 4-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Anteaters sneaky attempts at scoring were snuffed out by a smart Gaucho infield. A rare double steal hit-and-run was called by the Anteaters with runners on the corners in an attempt to take advantage of a favorable pitch count.
The plan, however, backfired for Irvine. The double steal attempt turned into a double pickle. The Gaucho infield performed an even more rare 2-3, 6-3, 2-5 double play, despite the efforts of the Anteater baserunners ducking and diving in a vain try at manufacturing some offense. The Anteater scoring drought would continue for the rest of the game, as UCI scored only two runs, both by senior second baseman Matt Fisher.
The top of the eighth inning saw a rare home run in Anteater Ballpark, regrettably from an opposing team. Gaucho shortstop Chris Valaika crushed a change-up from UCI junior Jimmy Alstot over the wall in left-field.
‘This [Gaucho] team is 20-10 for a reason,’ Savage said. ‘They are a great offensive team and really outplayed us today. It was the mental errors that really cost us that game.’
This series marked the first of many interdivisional games for the Anteaters in a conference known for its baseball.
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