Just two games into the season and already the UC Irvine baseball team has answers for its critics.
Who’s going to provide game-changing power when small ball won’t cut it? Friday’s box score answered that question loud and clear: Ryan Fisher.
The redshirt freshman was questionable coming into the series with an ankle sprain, but that certainly didn’t impact his swing against Nevada. Playing in the first game of his collegiate career, the left-handed swinging Fisher launched two home runs, one of which went to the opposite field.
And if that wasn’t enough, Fisher came up in the clutch the following day. His RBI single in the eighth inning brought the Anteaters within one run of the Wolf Pack before finally overcoming their 6-0 deficit in just two innings.
Speaking of overcoming major deficits, is there any doubt this team hasn’t sacrificed any chemistry from a year ago? The Anteater motto of never-say-die has made an easy transition into this season’s ball club.
Trailing 6-0 in the rigid temperatures of Nevada, UCI scored eight runs before making its six final outs. How did the rally start? By doing what they do better than any team in the nation: taking one for the team.
Sophomore Dillon Bell and freshman Tyler Hoechlin were each hit by a pitch to load the bases for UCI’s two main catalysts. An impeccable scenario to answer the question, will juniors Ollie Linton and Ben Orloff repeat their breakout seasons from 2007?
Linton delivered a two-run single followed by Orloff’s two-run double. Apparently, the ice water is still running through their veins.
But the top and middle parts of the order weren’t the only ones providing production for the offense. UCI’s freshman number-nine hitter, Hoechlin, made it very clear that he’s not just a speedster who can play the inside game. Playing in his first career game as an Anteater, Hoechlin muscled up and blasted a leadoff home run in the eighth inning of Friday’s game, meaning the two lone Anteaters in the lineup who had never played a game for UCI combined for three home runs.
The season is young of course, but it’s hard not to be excited about the prospects of Fisher and Hoechlin easing the pain of losing the star seniors whom they’re replacing: Matt Morris and Cody Cipriano.
In Saturday’s game, again, it was Hoechlin driving in the final run for the Anteaters. This time it was in a clutch situation to say the least. After scoring seven runs in less than two full innings, Hoechlin made it eight with his RBI double to give UCI the lead and eventually the win.
How about UCI’s highly touted Saturday starter? Bryce Stowell showed plenty to be excited about. His stat line isn’t impressive upon first glance, but Stowell wasn’t the benefactor of solid defense and his numbers suffered as a result. He went four-and-two-thirds innings pitched, surrendering three earned runs (five overall), and struck out four. However, he didn’t record any walks, and if it hadn’t been for the three errors committed behind him, his pitch count could have been much lower, allowing him to pitch deeper into the game.
Nevertheless, for a pitcher throwing in just his first career game for UCI in 27-degree weather, having stellar control of the strike zone and a respectable strikeout rate is an accomplishment in itself.
Just before the season kicked off, Orloff emphasized that good coaching will only take a team so far; it’s the players who ultimately have to score the runs and record the outs. Saturday’s come-from-behind victory couldn’t have epitomized his statement any better, which answers another burning question at the forefront of most Anteater fans: How would the team respond to a whole new coaching staff?
While Friday’s 6-0 victory was quite comforting, the 8-7 triumph on Saturday exuded the kind of character that this team has, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Obviously, the Anteaters still have that spark
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