UCI Wins 9th Straight—Under Protest

If someone were to write a thesis on the gray areas of rules in baseball, they would take Saturday’s contest between UC Irvine (32-17) and the University of the Pacific (25-22) as one of their major case studies. In fact, the 6-3 UCI win is still technically under protest by UOP, and everything that occurred from the third inning on could potentially be reversed by the Big West officials.
With five errors between the two teams and a number of other plays that could have been called either way, the game was an odd affair. It had everything from a player being hit on a throw, which allowed another player to nab a base, to a pitcher being replaced after throwing two balls and then that batter being walked (which pitcher is charged the walk?).
The play that garnered the most controversy occurred on a sacrifice fly by UCI sophomore catcher Aaron Lowenstein in the bottom of the second inning. Senior first baseman Jaime Martinez had tied the score up with a solo shot over the fence in left center field to lead off the inning, his 20th career blast, making him the all-time UCI career recordholder, before junior designated hitter Zach Robinson and junior right fielder Matt Morris followed with singles. They were moved over by junior third baseman Chad Lundahl.
Lowenstein then stepped up and delivered controversy. His fly ball was deep enough to allow Robinson to score and Morris to make it to third, leaving the team with two outs and a man on third. At least that’s what it looked like until UOP appealed the tag up by Morris at second base. The umpires called him out, deciding he left early.
The typical left early call is simple. The runner is out, inning over; except that this time a runner had scored prior to the appeal for the third out. The umpires talked to both coaches separately, consulted a rule book, and had a conference before concluding that the play stood. Run scored, inning over. And then the UOP coach protested the game.
‘The umpires are 100 percent sure that the protest won’t go through,’ said UCI Head Coach Dave Serrano after the game. ‘The rule is that if the ball is hit to centerfield, he has to throw it directly to second base before the runner scored. If they would have taken the run away I would have protested the game.’
While the team is considered a small-ball team, with freshman shortstop Ben Orloff and Aaron Lowenstein ranked first and 14th respectively in the NCAA in sacrifices, they have recently become a team that hits the cover off of the ball. Friday night they lit up the scoreboard to win 13-6, and Saturday they finished with the 6-3 win.
In Saturday’s game, Robinson and Martinez scored twice and were followed in by Morris and sophomore centerfielder Taylor Holiday who had one run apiece. Morris, Martinez and Lowenstein were responsible for one run batted in each as Lundahl knocked in two runs.
‘The scoreboard doesn’t dictate how hard we hit balls,’ Serrano noted after Saturday’s game. ‘We scalded some balls right at some people. It’s made it a lot easier on the pitching staff.’
Glenn Swanson appreciated the six runs as he garnered the win off a 6.1-inning, five-strikeout performance, giving up only two earned runs. Dylan Axelrod relieved him before Blair Erickson came in and gathered his 12th save of the season with four strikeouts in two innings of work.
The win over UOP was the ninth in a row for the Anteaters and the 13th in their last 14 games.
As junior second baseman Cody Cipriano said after the game, ‘We’re doing well executing with our offense. We’ve been putting it together pretty good. Things are coming together and the results are starting to happen the way we want them to.’
Serrano backed him up, saying ‘It’s a sign of a good team when different guys can step up. [Brock] Bardeen hadn’t played in awhile and he plays last night and has three hits. Morris hadn’t played in awhile and he had three hits today.’