Major League Baseball’s World Series ended just a few weeks ago, but UCI’s baseball team recently held a fall classic of its own. Yes, baseball in November. Although, the first pitch of the regular season won’t be thrown for another three months, the Anteaters featured their traditional Ants vs. ’Eaters inter-squad series this past weekend at Cicerone Field. The Ants took two of three games from the ’Eaters in the friendly exhibition series.
The weekend’s rosters were selected by senior captains, first baseman Jeff Cusick, pitchers Eric Pettis and Daniel Bibona and catcher Francis Larson, who drafted two teams of 19 players to compete in a three game series. As captains of the Ants’ team, Bibona and Larson snatched sophomore catcher Ronnie Shaeffer first, while Cusick and Pettis’ ’Eaters took junior Orange Coast College transfer Drew Hillman for their inaugural pick.
With the regular season in the distance and the College World Series on their minds, the coaching staff held Bibona, the team’s ace, to a 45 pitch limit in Thursday’s series opener.
“The ’Eaters tried to wear down my pitch count and get to our bullpen early, but I got three 2/3 innings of work in,” Bibona said, satisfied with his outing.
Come spring, the left-handed ace looks to return to form after showcasing a meager 2.63 ERA and a stellar 12-1 record in 15 starts last season.
Bibona and Cusick were co-captains on their local Santa Margarita high school baseball team; however, when placed on opposing teams, their competitive spirit came out.
“Danny threw great last night. We just made errors, gave them free passes and made mental mistakes that cost us the game,” Cusick said on Friday after Bibona’s players defeated his ’Eaters by a score of 7-5 the previous night.
In game two, the Ants clinched the series win as they edged the ‘Eaters 3-2. Cusick explained that the team made fewer mistakes and played “a much cleaner game,” despite the loss. However, the ’Eaters managed to avoid a sweep on Saturday morning. Their offense finally came alive, en route to an 11-7 victory.
This year, the baseball program publicized the competitive split-squad series for the first time.
“UCI has been doing this for years,” Cusick said. “This is the biggest it’s ever been. We had a decent amount of fans come out and it gave a game-like atmosphere for the new guys to compete in.”
The Anteaters, especially the seniors, are hungry for a trip to Omaha.
“We went to the semi-finals our freshman year [in 2007],” Bibona explained. “We lost to Oregon State, who went on to win the whole thing.”
Last season, UCI went 22-2 in Big West conference play before losing to Virginia in the regionals. On Feb. 19, the words Ants and ’Eaters will be combined and the 40 man roster will compete as one when they take on Loyola Marymount University at home in the season opener. When asked how this year is going to be different from years past, Cusick stated, “This year, every team is a battle. We want to win every pitch, and every inning, against every team.”
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