UC Irvine’s baseball team chose the wrong time to lose its first extra innings game of the season.
Facing elimination, the Anteaters blew a two-run ninth inning lead and eventually fell to the Missouri Tigers 5-4 in fourteen innings in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. The loss was the second of the playoffs, and officially ended the Anteaters season.
The baseball team had numerous opportunities to win the game, but failed to come up with clutch hits in extra innings. Down one run in the 14th inning with runners on first and second base, freshman shortstop Ben Orloff pushed a bunt down the third baseline. His attempt dribbled foul at the last second and negated a golden opportunity for the Anteaters to tie the game. Faced with two strikes, Orloff was forced to swing and grounded out to the Missouri shortstop who turned the game-ending double play.
‘It’s a game of inches and we came up on the wrong end,’ Head Coach Dave Serrano said after the team’s loss. ‘We went down to our last crack. Orloff hit a ball that almost found a seam, but credit to [Missouri], they managed to turn the double play.’
The Tigers scored the game winner in the top of that inning when Ryan Lollis smashed a double off UCI’s Scott Gorgen to score J.C. Field from second base. The Anteaters needed the victory due to their 3-2 loss to UCLA the previous day.
The game against UCLA was truly a pitchers’ duel as junior Justin Cassel threw seven and one -third innings, striking out eight. Hector Ambriz, the pitcher for UCLA, was the man of the night as he tossed a complete game while giving up only four hits and two runs, and striking out five Anteater batters. He also helped his own cause by going two for two at the plate.
‘You heard me say yesterday that [the game against UCLA] was a great college baseball game, and it was,’ Coach Serrano said after Saturday’s game against Missouri. ‘Unfortunately I’m going to say that again we were on the wrong side of what we wanted result-wise.’
The five-hour game against Missouri (33-26) on Saturday afternoon was yet another pitchers’ duel as senior Glenn Swanson, who was described by the Missouri coach after the game as ‘the best lefthander his team had faced all season,’ threw eight strong innings, striking out seven batters and walking only one. His pick off move was particularly deadly as he threw out two men on the base paths.
Swanson’s only mistake of the night was especially damaging for the Anteaters. With a 4-2 lead, Swanson balked in the top of the ninth inning, moving runners to second and third. Both runners eventually came around to score, which tied the game at four and sent the game into extra innings.
‘I think it was a culmination of everything that contributed to the loss,’ Serrano explained, ‘It’s a game of adjustments. They did a better job of making adjustments than we probably did. They looked foolish at times on pitches from all our pitchers, but if they got that pitch again, even if it was a good pitch, they made the adjustment to it and committed to it and put it in play.’
Though UCI (36-24) failed to win a game in their second appearance in at a Div. I regional tournament, their season was an achievement in itself.
Coach Serrano, in his second season at the helm, managed to take a team that few predicted would win more than a handful of significant games to a 6-4 record against teams in the top 25, garnering third place in a very competitive Big West Confrence and a berth to the NCAA Regional.
Said Cody Cipriano, the player of the game for UCI. ‘Every guy left every ounce of baseball we had between the lines.’ ‘You can’t be upset about that. As much as I’m disappointed we didn’t come out with the win, I’m happy to say that I had 24 other teammates and a coaching staff that laid it all out there and played our game.’
Serrano agreed: ‘As disappointed as I am now, I’m very proud of this team, my coaching staff and everyone associated with this team. We might not have ended up champions on the field, but we were definitely champions as people. As a coach I think that’s all you can ask.’
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