As the beginning of Big West Conference games kicked off Friday night, the UC Irvine baseball team was eager to prove not only that they can hang with the best teams in the nation, but that they were ready to show the country they can be recognized as the best. After steamrolling the Long Beach State 49ers 9-4 on Friday, March 30 at Anteater Ballpark, it appears that message was sent.
Sophomore starting pitcher Scott Gorgen was as tough as ever, tossing his first complete game of the season. His 128-pitch effort improved his record to 5-1. However, it’s likely he didn’t see that kind of outcome unfolding earlier in the game.
In the top of the first inning, the 49ers’ leadoff hitter Robert Perry reached on junior first basemen Taylor Holiday’s throwing error. Moments later Perry advanced to second on a passed ball. The Anteaters had beaten themselves just three days earlier at UNLV (11-6) after committing four errors and Friday’s early miscues seemed to be a discouraging omen. Perry later scored on a sacrifice fly by Shane Peterson and Long Beach was off to an early 1-0 lead.
After UCI went down in order in the bottom of the first, the 49ers went right back to work on offense. Long Beach tacked on another run with the help of a passed ball and a balk by the Anteaters.
Coming into the game, the Anteaters were ranked 24th in the nation, six spots behind the 18th-ranked 49ers. Needless to say, the winner of the three-game series between these clubs will significantly impact those rankings. UCI could expect to either fall out of the top 25 or surpass Long Beach’s ranking of 18, depending on the outcome.
Perhaps the criticality of this series brought about a sense of urgency for UCI as they trailed 2-0 coming to bat in the bottom of the second inning.
Junior right fielder Bryan Petersen displayed his exceptional speed by beating out a grounder to second base for an infield single. The Anteaters followed by loading the bases after a sacrifice bunt, a fielding error by Long Beach and a bunt single by sophomore center fielder Ollie Linton.
With one out, junior catcher Aaron Lowenstein laid down an impeccable bunt that bounced over the head of the pitcher. Everyone was safe, and Petersen came around to score the Anteaters’ first run, cutting Long Beach’s lead to 2-1.
With just one out and the bases loaded, the Anteaters looked to junior third basemen Tyler Vaughn to turn the tables. Vaughn entered Friday’s game hitting .321. He wasted no time increasing that batting average a few points in his first at-bat of the night.
Vaughn drilled the first pitch he saw down the third base line, scoring two of his fellow teammates and giving UCI its first lead of the night, 3-2.
‘I was looking for a pitch up in the zone,’ Vaughn recalled. ‘Luckily I got a slider that hung a little bit [over the plate] and I jumped on it.’
After Long Beach tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the fourth inning, the Anteaters’ pitching shut down the 49ers while the offense was relentless.
Holiday crushed an RBI triple to deep right center after Vaughn collected his second hit of the night, pushing UCI’s lead to 5-4. The Anteaters would tack on four more runs in the game and cruised to their 21st win of the season.
Gorgen was flawless until his final pitch, but it didn’t hurt having a spectacular defense behind him, especially the left side of the infield in Vaughn and shortstop Ben Orloff.
Vaughn and Orloff stole hits away from Long Beach hitters all night, whether it was a sharp line drive that would normally have escaped the infield or a slow dribbler that would’ve generally resulted in an infield single.
Scott Gorgen couldn’t say enough about his defense after the game.
‘I’ll put this defense against any team out there. They’ve been a huge boost to every pitcher on this team all year long,’ Gorgen said.
UC Irvine’s Etheridge Shuts Out Long Beach 4-0
Nobody predicted that Wes Etheridge would emerge as the best pitcher in the Big West Conference, but from a statistical standpoint, there isn’t anyone who can be mentioned in the same breath as the junior standout.
Etheridge pitched six and two-thirds scoreless innings as the UC Irvine baseball team defeated Long Beach in the second game of their three game series, 4-0, on Saturday, March 31, at Anteater Ballpark.
Etheridge improved his record to a conference-best 8-0 while lowering his microscopic ERA to 1.23.
With such dominating numbers, it’s easy to think that Etheridge has a filthy arsenal of pitches at his disposal, but that’s far from the truth.
‘Tonight, Wes threw 119 pitches, and I would bet 100 of them were fastballs,’ said UCI Head Coach Dave Serrano.
If that’s the case, it must be one devastating fastball, right?
‘I wouldn’t even call it a fastball,’ Etheridge admitted after the game. ‘I don’t even throw it hard. I don’t know what to call it. All I know is that it keeps yielding me ground balls.’
That said, it appears the best pitcher in the Big West has but one pitch