After staking a 6-0 lead in the first inning, the Anteaters didn’t think the game might end with Oral Roberts having the tying run at second base. Luckily, Eric Pettis escaped a bases-loaded jam to propel the UC Irvine baseball team into the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Regionals.
The Golden Eagles entered the game riding a 12-game winning streak, but UCI put an immediate damper on their hopes of making it 13.
In the bottom of the first, the Anteaters sent 11 men to the plate and cashed in six runs. In the inning, Tony Asaro and Francis Larson each had RBI singles while Dillon Bell added a two-run single. The ‘Eaters chased ORU’s starting pitcher Michael Jarmin after just one-third of an inning. All six runs were charged to Jarmin.
But the Golden Eagles’ strong suit had been their offense all year—UCI knew that no lead was safe, not even with All-American Scott Gorgen on the mound. Oral Roberts averaged nearly nine runs a game in the regular season.
Sure enough, the Golden Eagles bats struck early and often. After Ryan Groth doubled to center field to lead-off the second inning, the Golden Eagles cut the lead to 6-2 on a two-run home run by David Genao.
UCI answered with its seventh run of the game in just the third inning on an RBI single by Josh Tavelli, scoring Tony Asaro who laced a one-out double to left. Asaro was three-for-five on the day with two runs and an RBI.
By the end of the third inning, the Anteaters staked their lead to 8-2 after Ollie Linton scored from third base on a wild pitch. In the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, however, Roberts made things interesting.
After Gorgen recorded two quick outs in the fifth, Roberts put together a two-out rally that consisted of two singles and a walk, yielding the Golden Eagles one run.
In the sixth, ORU scored three runs on three hits and an error. Christian Bergman came in on relief to finish the frame for Gorgen as UCI’s lead slipped to 8-6.
All of a sudden it became a one-run game when ORU’s cleanup hitter Brandon Van Kirk deposited Bergman’s 1-2 offering over the left field wall.
The Anteaters tacked on an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI single by Sean Madigan; fortunately, it wasn’t necessary, as Eric Pettis notched his 16th save of the season. It didn’t come easy, as the Golden Eagles put together a double and a pair of walks to load the bases with one out. Fortunately, UCI’s closer recorded a clutch strikeout and induced a game-ending groundout to seal the victory for the Anteaters.
Pettis struck out four batters in one-and-two-thirds of an inning. He became just one save away from tying the UCI single-season saves record.
“Now that it’s over, that was fun. It was hard. It was a grind. I’m really proud of the number of different guys that did something to pick us up on the mound, at the mound and on defense,” Head Coach Mike Gillespie said.
UCI 3 Nebraska 2
A day after scoring 13 runs in their first game of the NCAA Regional, the Cornhuskers, along with their 8,646 fans, were stifled by Daniel Bibona and introduced to the deceptive power of Ollie Linton.
The sophomore lefty pitched a career-high eight innings, struck out seven batters and gave up just two runs en route to the Anteaters’ 40th win of the year.
“In the beginning of the game, it was a little overwhelming because I’ve never pitched in an atmosphere like that before. When they were all clapping in the seventh or eighth inning, I felt like they were all clapping for me,” Bibona said.
He couldn’t have done it without the center field spark plug. A day after reaching base four times and stealing a pair of bases, Linton showed off his hidden talent in the fifth inning: power-hitting.
With the score tied 2-2, Linton launched Nebraska starter Johhny Dorn’s 1-2 offering over the right-field fence and into the bullpen for his fourth home run of the season.
“I felt like I got into it. I got it really high. It was a curveball that he threw down and in and I just dropped the head of the bat and luckily, I got enough on it to get it out of the ballpark,” said Linton.
The solo blast was all Bibona needed before handing the ball over to Eric Pettis in the ninth inning, who recorded a perfect one, two, three inning for his 17th save of the year—tying the UC Irvine single-season save record.
“We’re of course extraordinarily proud of Danny (Bibona) and Eric Pettis. We felt like we got really good defense on three or four different occasions,” said Head Coach Mike Gillespie. “We strung together three hits in the second inning with two outs. The guy that we’ve come to expect home runs from (Ollie Linton) jumped the yard and we made it hold up.”
The ‘Eaters got on the board first in the second inning after an RBI double by Eric Deragisch, who played spectacular defense all game. Nebraska claimed the lead on a two-run homer by Jake Opitz in the third, but the Anteaters answered in their bottom half when Jeff Cusick singled home Ben Orloff to tie the game at two.
After Linton’s homer, Bibona and Pettis didn’t need any more support. The two of them combined to sit-down every Cornhusker that came to the plate from the sixth inning on.
“In the beginning, I felt like I had all my pitches working, but that I was just a little timid. Toward the end of the game, I really felt like my slider and fastball command were good and I fed off the crowd,” said Bibona.
Sean Madigan and Casey Stevenson each collected three hits. UCI hitters tallied 11 on the day off of Dorns, who is the active leader in collegiate wins. The Cornhuskers’ starter was handed just his second loss of the season while Bibona improved to 9-3 on the year.
“It’s really awesome being out here. Some of the guys were saying, ‘this is college baseball’. With this atmosphere and playing a really quality team like Nebraska, that’s just a well-played game,” said Orloff.
UCI 8 Oral Roberts 0
Bryce Stowell was at his best in the biggest game of his life.
The Anteaters were just one win away from advancing to the Super Regional, and Stowell gave Oral Roberts no chance. The junior pitched seven and two-thirds scoreless innings, striking out a career-high 13 batters and surrendering just five singles.
Just two days ago ORU had gotten to Scott Gorgen and lived up to its reputation as a hot-hitting ball club, but the Golden Eagles were stifled by the right-hander. Stowell was crowned “Most Outstanding Player” of the Regional following his performance.
ORU was unable to quiet the UCI bats once again. Casey Stevenson and Sean Madigan continued their torrid hitting terrors.
Stevenson got the Anteaters on the board with a sacrifice fly in the first, a double in the third, a single in the fifth and then added an RBI single in the seventh. The junior finished with three hits, three runs and a pair of RBI. During the three-game Regional, Stevenson was nearly unstoppable, going seven for nine.
Madigan was an RBI machine on Sunday. The left-handed sophomore had a run-scoring single in the third before adding a pair of two-run singles in the seventh and ninth innings. He finished seven for ten in the Regional.
ORU had just finished pounding Nebraska 9-0 prior to the beginning of Sunday’s game, but the Golden Eagles had their fortunes reversed during their second match-up with the Anteaters. Thanks in large part to Stowell.
UCI’s flame-thrower had command of his fastball and changeup along with a curveball that was as devastating as it had been all year. He didn’t issue a single walk, and the Golden Eagles failed to muster an extra base hit off of Stowell. His 13 strikeouts were a career-high.
The starting pitcher for Oral Roberts entered the game with a 13-0 record on the season, but UCI ended his campaign for an undefeated year in his final game in an ORU uniform.
The Anteaters benefited from four Golden Eagles errors that led to a pair of unearned runs for ORU pitchers. UCI on the other hand, committed zero errors all tournament. The team’s post-season experience was clearly evident in all three games. Ben Orloff made several impressive plays at shortstop to conclude a weekend that highlighted several flashy defensive stops by the Anteaters.
One of seldom teams to sweep their regional, the Anteaters will now head to Louisiana State University to compete in the Super Regional—the “Sweet 16.” UCI will have to win two out of three games to return to the College World Series. The first game will probably be on Saturday and the games will likely be nationally televised.
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