The dismal weather told the story for the Anteaters in the first of their three-game series versus UC Santa Barbara Friday night.
Dillon Bell broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run over the right field wall, but it was the only support the ‘Eaters could provide for junior All-American Scott Gorgen.
UCI’s ace held the Gauchos scoreless for six innings before UCSB broke through with an RBI single and a two-run homer, staking a 3-1 lead. In the eighth, the Gauchos tacked on another run on an RBI triple off of freshman Crosby Slaught and padded their lead with a pair of runs in ninth.
Meanwhile, other than Bell’s fourth long ball of the year, the Anteaters were stifled by UCSB’s usual mid-week starter. While filling in for the Gauchos’ Friday night pitcher, right-hander Michael Martin was a pleasant substitute for UCSB, as he pitched the finest game of his career.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for UCI. With the loss, the Anteaters conceded their chances of finishing third-place in the Big West. UCI scattered eight hits, but salvaged just two runs. After stranding a runner on third in the fifth, the ‘Eater offense didn’t put a runner as far as second base until the ninth.
The defense wasn’t much better as UCI committed four errors, two of which led to a pair of UCSB insurance runs in the ninth.
Gorgen dropped to 10-3 on the season as he tossed seven innings, giving up three runs on five hits and striking out six.
UCI 14 UCSB 7
It was very appropriate that the UCI offense exploded on fireworks. On Saturday, the overwhelming sense of urgency to win translated into a decisive victory for the Anteaters.
The UCI bats were rolling on all cylinders as they put together 14 runs, the most in a conference game this year.
Tony Asaro drove in four runs on four hits to help the Anteaters deliver Head Coach Mike Gillespie his 800th career win.
However, after UCI committed a pair of errors in the top of the first, UCSB got out to an early 1-0 lead. The Anteaters had made two errors in the last inning of Friday’s game—two errors to begin Saturday’s contest seemed like a gloomy omen. Luckily, the offense was potent enough to deflect attention from the ‘Eaters’ defensive woes.
It took just four batters for UCI to erase the deficit as Asaro launched an RBI double to score Ben Orloff, who enjoyed a perfect four-for-four day at the plate. Francis Larson followed with a two-run single to give the Anteaters a 3-1 lead. It was only the beginning.
In the third inning, the Anteaters had more trouble brewing for the Gauchos, with runners on first and second and nobody out for Asaro. Trying to advance the runners, Asaro showed bunt during his at bat, but was hit by the pitch on his left foot. He was awarded first base—momentarily.
About five minutes after Asaro was awarded first base, the home plate umpire suddenly ruled Asaro, who had shown bunt during the pitch, thus ruling the pitch a strike and sending him back to the plate. The ruling was made just before the first pitch in Larson’s at bat and it came without any deliberation amongst the umpires. Reversing calls is recognized as poor umpiring etiquette, and unfortunately for Saturday’s umpiring crew, an officiating evaluator happened to be at the game.
The crowd vocalized their disgust, as did Gillespie. Asaro was as perplexed as everyone else, but he quickly made it clear that he had no problem putting the bat back in his hands.
On the very next pitch he drove the pitcher’s offering up the middle to score two more runs, staking the UCI lead to 5-1 and electrifying the 1,048 in attendance.
The Anteaters scored twice in the fifth, but the Gauchos didn’t go down easily as they capitalized on another UCI error and put four runs across the board in their half of the fifth.
For every big inning the Gauchos came up with, the Anteaters countered with more offense. In the sixth, UCI strung together six consecutive two-out hits, putting six men across the plate and increasing the lead to 14-6.
“Tonight it was like a fight of the bat rack. Guys were putting together good at bat after good at bat and keeping great approaches. Everyone wants to be the next guy up,” Orloff said.
The offensive surge couldn’t have come at a better time. Obviously, Omaha won’t be in the plans for UCI without an offense that can consistently deliver. Hopefully Saturday was the start of some consistency.
“That’s just baseball. Last night we scored two runs and tonight we come out and get 14, but we’re feeling pretty confident,” said Orloff.
Not scoring enough runs has been a major source of anxiety for Gillespie lately. Saturday’s much-needed onslaught was imperative.
“We’ve all been concerned by that. We wouldn’t be talking about a win if [the offense] hadn’t exploded. In my view, it was the most important game and win of the year. I think we needed it desperately,” Gillespie said.
He certainly viewed the win as more rewarding than his 800th victory.
“It means a lot of birthdays and a lot of losses. If it were 1,800, that’d be different—that’d mean I’m 140,” he said.
UCI starter Bryce Stowell pitched 5.2 innings, surrendered three earned runs and struck out six. He picked up the win to improve to 7-2 on the year.
UCI 2 UCSB 0
Daniel Bibona and the bullpen were flawless in perhaps the most important game for the regular season. The sophomore starter combined with Christian Bergman, Tom Calahan and Eric Pettis to shut out the Gaucho offense in a critical rubber-match.
The shutout was the eighth of the Anteaters’ season, and the win from Bibona was his eighth as well. The lefty improved to 8-3 to finish the regular season.
UCI played small-ball to scratch out its two runs. In the third, Josh Tavelli doubled to left field before being sacrificed to third by Eric Deragisch. Then with one out, Aaron Lowenstein, in his last game at Anteater Ballpark, executed a squeeze-bunt up the first base line to bring Tavelli home.
“When [the squeeze] works, you’re smart, when it doesn’t you’re an idiot. We had the right guy at the plate doing it,” Gillespie said.
The lone run was all Bibona and the bullpen would need, but the UCI offense provided another run of support when Brock Bardeen lined a two-strike split-finger fastball to left field, bringing home Ben Orloff on a sacrifice fly. It was a comfort run that proved to allow UCI’s head coach to breath easier going into the ninth inning with UCSB having its middle of the order due up to hit.
“It was huge. [Bardeen] sold out to go deal with the split, got it, then did what he did with it. I was really pleased with his at bat,” Gillespie said.
Eric Pettis came on in the ninth to slam the door on UCSB as he recorded his conference leading 15th save.
The Anteaters finished the regular season with a record of 38-16 overrall and 14-10 in the Big West, good for third place in the conference. They finished 16-8 at Anteater Ballpark on the season.
On Monday, the team will be notificed of where they will play their regional match as they begin their postseason pursuit of Omaha for a second straight year.
“Those guys really pitched and you know, if you get beat 3-2 you think your offense sucks, but if you win 2-0 you’re feeling pretty good,” Gillespie said.
Even though the most critical games are just now approaching, Gillespie is pleased with how the regular season panned out in his first season as head coach for the Anteaters.
“There’s no debate about it, it’s been a good year—this team’s done well. It is a real good group of guys. It’s been a [really] gratifying year and it’s not over.”
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