In a game of small ball which included seven sacrifices, four infield hits and nine walks, an unlikely outcome occurred for the UC Irvine Baseball team against UC Riverside. They hit home runs.
Yes, the team that averages one home run every three games connected for two dramatic home runs, including a walk-off two-run shot by senior first baseman Jaime Martinez in the bottom of the 10th inning to propel the Anteaters to a 5-4 extra-innings win on Saturday night.
With no outs and junior second baseman Cody Cipriano on second after leading off the bottom of the 10th inning with a double, Martinez knocked a 1-1 curveball over the left field fence to cap a dramatic come from behind victory.
‘I was up there and just wanted to help out the team any way I could,’ Martinez said. ‘I’m at a loss of words. It was a great experience … especially with so much on the line.’
Martinez would not have had the chance to be the game’s hero if it wasn’t for junior left fielder Matt Morris’ stellar plays in the ninth and 10th innings. His first play came after UCI junior designated hitter Zach Robinson singled to lead off the ninth inning. Down 3-1 in the ninth inning, the game seemed over for the small ball specialists until Morris took the 2-1 pitch and drilled it over the left field fence, a preview of Martinez’ winning bomb an inning later.
When UCI (36-21, 11-9) failed to score again, the game went to extra innings tied 3-3. Junior closer Blair Erickson (5-0), who garnered the win, picked up two quick outs, but walked three batters to load the bases. UC Riverside’s Brett Bigler then singled to left to score a run and give the Highlanders a 4-3 lead. Jaime Pedroza tried to make it home from second on the play but a bullet from Morris caught him at the plate for the final out of the inning, leaving the ‘Eaters only a single run down, a perfect setup for Martinez’s game winning home run.
‘We can’t forget Matt Morris’s two run shot, that was smoke. Then Blair [Erickson] struggled in the 10th but the throw, that was a huge play that could go unnoticed,’ Serrano said. ‘Jaime [Martinez] turning a breaking ball around and hitting it out of sight was pretty special. I’m very proud to be the leader of this group of young men, hopefully for a few more weeks at least.’
Even though the season ended on Sunday with the final game of the series against Riverside, there is a possibility that UCI will be invited to continue playing, moving on to the NCAA Regional Championship. UCI fell short of winning the league, which would have guaranteed them a playoff berth. That honor went to Cal State Fullerton as they captured another Big West title with their win over second-place Long Beach State. Yet the Anteaters finished the season strong and the back-to-back wins over Riverside should give the ‘Eaters a good chance at a bid.
Until Saturday night, third place wasn’t guaranteed for the ‘Eaters as they entered the weekend with a 9-9 record in league. Both Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara had records of 8-10, leaving open the possibility that one of them would catch or pass UCI in the final series of the season. The Anteaters secured third place with the dramatic win on Saturday and a complete game shutout victory on Friday night.
Junior hurler Justin Cassel, who appeared in his 17th game of the season, improved to 7-8 with the complete game shutout, allowing only five hits and two walks while striking out four in a 5-0 Irvine victory. The win gave Cassel 20 wins for his career, tied for eighth all time at UCI. Senior pitcher Glenn Swanson, who started and threw 7.0 innings in Saturday’s game but came away with a no decision, is tied for fourth with 25 career wins. The shutout on Friday night underscored the number of innings that Cassel has thrown this year, averaging nearly seven-and-a-half innings per appearance including four complete games. He’s fourth on the all-time innings pitched list with 310.
‘It felt good,’ Cassel said of the shutout. ‘The big thing was to go out and get the first game of the series. I was throwing a lot of strikes and our defense just played unbelievable behind me. A pitcher couldn’t ask for more, especially a ground ball pitcher like myself. Those guys went to work and did a good job.’
Though he was pleased, Cassel, like Martinez, accredited the significance of his performance to his team members. ‘Shutouts come and go. It was nice to finally get one and this was the first for me this season. It was nice to have, but I think the bigger thing was the win because now we’re looking at regionals.’
The selections for regionals will be announced on Monday. Everyone on the team is holding their breath, waiting for the news they feel they deserve, especially after going 6-4 against the teams ranked in the top 25 and winning a team record 35 games.
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