UCI 11, Pacific 8
Jeff Cusick sat in the dugout for the first eight innings of Sunday’s game against the Pacific Tigers and watched his team fall into an 8-3 deficit heading into the top of the ninth inning.
The freshman saw the team’s chances of capturing the Big West Title slipping away as the team was down to its final three outs.
The ninth inning started innocently enough with freshman Francis Larson singling up the middle. Then the Anteaters had their next five batters reach base with three of them scoring.
Now trailing 8-6 with the bases loaded, UCI junior Brian Petersen was up to bat.
Head Coach Dave Serrano didn’t like the match up at the plate and called on Cusick to pinch hit.
Cusick drew a 2-2 count from Pacific pitcher David Rowse and took the next pitch inside.
Cusick started to walk towards first base, indicating to the umpire that he was hit by the pitch. The umpire disagreed and sent Cusick back to the plate.
Now facing a 3-2 count, Cusick got a change-up he could handle and hit the pitch over the fence in left-field for a grand-slam home run.
The homer gave UCI a 10-8 lead, the first since it led 1-0 after the end of the first inning.
‘In a 3-2 count they don’t want to walk you,’ Cusick said. ‘I was looking for a fastball and he threw a change up inside.’ I was able to get a hold of it but you got to give the seven guys in front of me credit. They had wonderful at-bats and without them I would have never got a shot.’
The Anteaters scored eight runs in the pivotal ninth inning and turned an 8-3 deficit into a incredible 11-8 victory.
‘It was pretty amazing what the team was able to accomplish today, Serrano said. ‘For eight innings we were dead in the water but we found some magic in the ninth inning. The guys put together seven or eight consecutive great at-bats and they just have the resiliency where they just don’t want to loose. I am just very proud of this team and what we were able to put together.’
Cusick’s heroics were more dramatic as he had hit just two home runs all season and driven in only eight runs.
He described the scene at the ballpark after he hit the grand slam.
‘Our team is so close that everyone was going nuts,’ Cusick said. ‘Everybody was congratulating each other because it was a team comeback. We all did our part and we have been waiting a long time for a win like this.’
Junior Tom Calahan (2-0) battled the flu and pitched one and two-thirds innings to record the win. Senior closer Blair Erickson shut down the Tigers in order in the bottom of the ninth inning to record his 13th save of the season.
‘I think this team realizes what we need to do and they know what they are capable of. There is a pretty cohesive bond between the players and they just don’t want the season to end,’ Serrano said.
UCI (34-14-1 overall, 10-5 Big West) is currently in third place in the conference and has one of the easier schedules heading into the final six games of the season. They will host Cal State Northridge and end its season with a season defining series against second place UC Riverside.
Long Beach State is currently in first place with a 13-2 record in conference, but will have to face second place UCR and highly talented Cal State Fullerton to close out the season.
Second place UCR will end its season with a series against Long Beach and UCI.
‘We are playing our best baseball and winning more than any team since this program was resurrected,’ Serrano said. ‘When we started the season our goal was to win the conference and that will always be our goal. We still have work to do but we kind of control our own destiny with the teams we play.’