Over the last couple of weeks, the idea of a ‘typical midweek game’ has been shattered for the UC Irvine Baseball team.
Three weeks ago, senior pitcher Glenn Swanson defeated No. 22 USC on a Tuesday. Two weeks ago he threw a no-hitter and became the Big West Player of the Week, as well as the Collegiate Baseball ‘Louisville Slugger’ National Player of the Week, joining Justin Cassel who won both awards the week before. And last week, prior to yet another record-breaking game, he was named the Player of the Week by both CollegeBaseballInsider.com and by the College Baseball Foundation.
So, when the game started last Tuesday without Swanson on the mound, against the unranked University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it looked to be a fairly typical outing. There was the minor possibility that Cassel would have another big outing and strike out 15 again, but after the first two innings without a strikeout it seemed just like any other Tuesday game.
Senior first baseman Jaime Martinez got the game off to a quick start, knocking junior infielder Cody Cipriano and sophomore utility Taylor Holiday home on a bouncing ball up the middle in the bottom of the first. With Cassel taking care of business all seemed well.
Two innings later, the UNLV Rebels (19-27) scored on a one-out double by second baseman CJ Lang. After the two-run third, Cassel tightened his game and finished the next 18 batters in a row, throwing what would have been a complete game on a mere 90 pitches.
‘I found my groove and was feeling good,’ Cassel said. ‘The defense really stepped it up and made some big plays.’
Though Cassel had an amazing night, the real story was on the offensive side of the ball. After Martinez’ two-run single, the Anteaters’ efficiency dropped off completely. The team got 17 hits and left 17 men on base.
‘We weren’t executing like we usually do,’ said UC Irvine Head Coach Dave Serrano. ‘We just couldn’t get hits in the right places.’
For the entire first half of the game, while the Anteaters faced UNLV starter Ryan Tabor, UCI seemed to be on the brink of scoring. In his six innings, Tabor gave up 10 hits, including four infield hits. Yet UCI couldn’t get anything going.
When reliever Jabe Beard took over, UCI thought they might have a shot to take the lead. That was until he threw 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts.
In reality, the Anteaters beat themselves. Their pitching, however, was stellar. After Cassel’s 90-pitch outing, All-American closer Blair Erickson came in and gave UCI three great innings, giving up only one walk while striking out three. Freshman pitcher Kyle Necke took his place in the top of the 13th and struck out three in two innings.
In the top of the 15th, junior pitcher Dylan Axelrod relieved Necke. Axelrod walked his second batter and gave up a bloop single over second base. Another walk loaded the bases, putting fear in UCI’s eyes for the first time during the night.
UNLV’s next batter hit a weak grounder to freshman shortstop Ben Orloff who threw the ball home. After stepping on the plate, senior catcher Jeff Werhun threw the ball to first but the runner was hit for the second time on the night. Instead of giving UCI an interference call like a similar situation a few innings prior, the umpires called it an error. The runner from second scored during the confusion, the run unearned.
‘The run fired the bench up,’ Serrano said. ‘We’re playing for our lives, our backs are up against the wall every night so we need to play with this fire every game, every inning, every pitch. I asked the guys where the fire was in the 10th and 11th and 12th innings. We didn’t get it until they scored.’
In the bottom of the 15th with the game already longer than the previous UCI record, a 14-inning affair against BYU in 2002, Werhun walked and was moved over to second by senior outfielder Gary Dudry. When Cipriano hit a shallow single and then stole second, the plate was set for freshman infielder Ben Orloff. With the infield in, he hit a shot under a diving second baseman, scoring both runners and giving UCI the 4-3 win in the bottom of the 15th.
‘It felt great,’ Orloff said. ‘I haven’t hit a game winner before this, so it was awesome. I have to give a ton of credit to the pitchers though. They kept us in the game.’