When junior starting pitcher Justin Cassel took the mound on Friday against UC Santa Barbara, the game of the week had already been logged. Senior pitcher Glenn Swanson had shut out the No. 22-ranked team in the nation and led the Anteaters to a 5-0 defeat of USC.
Swanson, who shares the third spot in the pitching rotation with junior Gary Nakashima, threw four innings of spotless hurling, retiring every batter he saw. Nakashima contributed two innings of no-hit ball while junior Dylan Axelrod and freshman Kyle Necke kept the slate blank to finish the game out.
The game was big and the win continued the tradition that UC Irvine (23-17, 4-7) has started this season, beating teams ranked in the top 25 (they’ve done it six times already). Earlier, they took two of three in a series against No. 25 California, two separate games against No. 1 Cal State Fullerton, and now both matchups against No. 22 USC (22-17).
However, even great wins can be overshadowed by astounding individual achievements. Cassel produced such a performance in Friday’s 12-2 victory against UCSB (16-19, 3-5), striking out 15 batters in 8.2 innings. Freshman Chris Lopez finished off the game with a strikeout to set a new strikeout record, the highest total (16) since the program restarted in 2002.
‘I was just out there pumping strikes, trying to give guys the opportunity to make plays,’ Cassel said. ‘The defense was great. Hats off to all the guys. They had an incredible night defensively, it wasn’t just me. They put up 12 runs and when you do that you’re going to win a game.’
‘He was pretty remarkable,’ said UCI Head Coach Dave Serrano. ‘He was definitely on it. He pitched with his fastball on both sides of the plate, had an outstanding curveball and threw a great change-up. When he does that he’s pretty tough.’
The 15-strikeout night added to Cassel’s team-leading 71 strikeouts this season and moved him into fourth on the UCI strikeout list with 213 in his three years.
After Cassel’s remarkable night, freshman Scott Gorgen was given the opportunity to lead UCI against UCSB on Saturday. Gorgen, who is leading the team with a 5-2 record, had some early trouble locating his pitches and gave up three runs including a home run. However, he did recover and managed to make it through the eighth inning before handing the ball off to his closing staff.
‘I had a little bit of shoulder tightness after Cal Poly so I was a little timid in the first four innings.’ Gorgen said. ‘I wasn’t letting it fly, letting it go loose. It ended up coming back and biting us in the butt even though the offense did all they could … to put us in a position to win.’
The Anteaters definitely put runs on the board, as senior first baseman Jaime Martinez and sophomore designated hitter Tyler Vaughn contributed with home runs. Junior third baseman Chad Lundahl did his part as well, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
‘The offense built a big enough lead that our pitching staff should have been able to hold that,’ Serrano said. ‘I know I second-guess the fact that we didn’t use Erickson in the ninth, but I committed to finishing the game with the rest of the guys. I kick myself because I should have just gone one game at a time. I’m not saying it would have [been stopped], but with the best closer in the country it may have.’
Junior closer Blair Erickson was saved for Sunday’s game, which he is starting. On April 19, he was named to the 2006 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midseason Stopper of the Year watch list. He has 10 saves, leaving him tied for fifth in the country, and has a 1.55 ERA with a 3-0 record. His 37 career saves are second all-time in the Big West.
Axelrod, Necke and Swanson were sent in to close in Blair’s place Saturday night. The three combined to give up four runs in the top of the ninth, blowing what wasn’t even a save opportunity at the beginning of the inning.
‘This is a bullet the pitching staff definitely will take because that’s enough runs for us to win a baseball game,’ Serrano said of the 8-7 loss. ‘We need to come back with a vengeance tomorrow, finish the job and win the series.’