When UC Irvine’s baseball team took the field against No. 1-ranked Cal State Fullerton, the outcome seemed foretold. The game the night before certainly had been, as Fullerton did the expected by dominating UCI in a 7-0 win. In fact, on paper, the Fullerton Titans (25- 8, 4-1 Big West) should not only dominate; but they should utterly destroy UCI (19-14, 1-4) every time they play them.
They’re ranked No. 1 in the country by three different national polls. They’re leading the Big West in nearly every significant category. And they’ve only lost one game against an unranked opponent the entire year. But just as every great sports movie claims, and as UCI demonstrated on this occasion, anyone can win on any given night.
Saturday night was freshman pitcher Scott Gorgen’s night to, again, slay the dragon, as he collected his fourth win on the year, a 2-0 shutout, and his second against Fullerton. Yes, the only two losses that Fullerton has against teams not nationally ranked have come against the freshman phenomenon that is Gorgen (4-2).
‘I felt really relaxed and I had my stuff tonight. I was playing with the hitter’s heads like I should be every game,’ Gorgen said of his 6 2/3 inning, seven-strikeout performance. ‘I have to give full credit to the defense. They came up big. And the team gave me a little breathing room with the two runs. I have to give them full credit.’
It helped Gorgen that the game turned into a small ball competition as both teams tried to bunt, steal and sacrifice their way around the base paths. Small ball is, as UCI Head Coach Dave Serrano has said time and time again, the way that UCI plays.
‘That’s part of our offense. Part of our offense is not giving teams the inner part of the plate and [getting hit by a pitch] is no different than getting a hit, it’s a baserunner,’ Serrano noted after the game. ‘We’re going to do whatever we have to do to be successful.’
Sophomore utility Taylor Holiday did what he had to do in order to help the team out, getting hit by pitches in consecutive at bats. In fact, his play epitomized the story of the game in a lot of ways.
In the fourth, Holiday hit a squib down the third baseline that got him to first. In the process, the third baseman’s overthrow allowed Holiday to keep running and he made it to third before the Titans got everything back under control. Junior Zach Robinson’s sacrifice fly two batters later produced the first run of the night. When Holiday got hit by a pitch two innings later, he was again knocked in by Robinson for the final run of the evening.
More than anything, it was the fielding and heads-up plays that allowed the ‘Eaters to collect a win over the top-ranked Titans. Fullerton managed to get players in scoring position in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but didn’t convert any of the chances due to UCI’s intelligent play.
In the sixth, with runners on first and second and no outs, shortstop Ben Orloff collected a groundball and threw it to third to get the lead runner. As Serrano said, ‘That was a big, big play in that situation. The young man hasn’t been at short very much but he had the savvy to come up with it.’
In the eighth, with men on first and third, All-American closer Blair Erickson faked to third with a pick off and then caught the runner at first in a pickle. With his teammate in a rundown, the man on third decided it was an opportune time to try to steal home. Senior first baseman Jaime Martinez knew what was happening and gunned the ball to senior catcher Jeff Werhun who promptly ended the inning by tagging the runner out. An inning later, Erickson struck out three straight batters to collect his team-leading 10th save.
The series ended after press time, but Serrano mentioned that ‘any time you beat a No. 1, and a team of Cal State Fullerton’s caliber, whether they’re No. 1 or not, it gives your team confidence.’