Next weekend’s series versus UC Santa Barbara marks the final three games of the Anteaters’ regular season before they play some serious “must-win” ball games.
The NCAA Regionals begin May 30. If all goes well, they will advance to the Super Regionals on June 6 and finally to Omaha on June 14.
However, the Anteaters wouldn’t dare look that far ahead. There’s plenty of work to be done before then. To be honest, the Anteaters aren’t quite ready for the postseason. Without a doubt, they have the ingredients to make another unforgettable run to the College World Series, but they haven’t dotted all their “I’s” and crossed out all their “T’s.”
The defense has certainly improved since April, but it still lacks consistency. The ‘Eater defense was flawless versus UC Davis, but committed three errors against the Bruins Tuesday, leading to two unearned runs. Consequently, UCI lost 6-4. It was reminiscent of the loss to Northridge on May 4, where a fielding miscue led to three unearned runs and the 4-1 loss. Defense was the deciding factor in a conference match versus UC Riverside, as well. The Anteaters lost 7-5 in the series rubber-match after two errors led to a pair of unearned runs, proving once again to be the difference. Barring those mistakes, the Anteaters could be 13-7 in conference and completed a two-game sweep of UCLA this year.
Defensive inconsistency has been one of the main issues Assistant Coach Pat Shine has thoroughly emphasized lately. While he wishes there were a perfect remedy, he realizes there is but one solution that doesn’t always happen overnight—work harder, get better.
Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what the Anteaters have been doing. Hey, they’re not practicing five hours a day because they love baseball that much. The sense of urgency is imminent.
The same goes for their bats. This past week was the perfect microcosm for the Anteaters’ season offensively. Take for instance the 6-4 loss versus UCLA. The ‘Eater pitching staff kept the game close and the offense showed signs of breaking out, but always seemed to fall short. Josh Tavelli hit a monstrous home run, but it was good for just one run. After playing catch-up all game, the offense made things exciting in the last possible moments by loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Sadly, they fell one base-hit short of tying the game.
Of course, the next day they obliterated Loyola Marymount—scorching them for 18 runs on 26 hits. Granted, the Bruins are a superior team, but 18 runs is a reflection of offensive depth and potential. If only the Anteaters could have used a third of those runs in both the games before and after Wednesday’s blow-out, they would have beaten UCLA 9-6 and taken the first game against Davis 9-3.
Instead, the ‘Eater offense fell asleep again, mustering up just one run in Friday’s match up with the Aggies. Just like against the Bruins, the pitching kept the offense within striking range, but in the end UCI failed to come up with a big hit when it needed it most. Losing by two runs has become a familiar trend; the Anteaters are 2-8 in two-run ball games. Interestingly enough, they’re 8-1 in one-run games—and wouldn’t you know it, they won 4-3 the following day.
This week has summed up UCI’s season: lost a game by two runs, destroyed a team, lost by two runs again, and won a one-run game. The Anteaters’ record in conference is 12-9. However, in those 21 conference games, UCI has outscored its opponents 127-60. In seven of its 12 wins, the ‘Eaters have won by scoring five runs or fewer, which is a testament to the pitching.
So field better and hit better—easy enough right? The truth is, these corrections can be made overnight, as the Anteaters have proved by playing perfect defense versus Davis and putting up 18 runs against LMU. It’s now a matter of finally putting it all together as the most important part of the season dawns upon us.
Shine claims the Anteaters don’t have any power in the lineup, and that may be true if you compare the UCI lineup to Arizona State. Nevertheless, Brock Bardeen, Josh Tavelli and Casey Stevenson have emerged into the realm of potential long ball candidates for the Anteaters. Bardeen’s two-run blast against Davis Saturday certainly exhibited game-changing power, and while Tavelli’s solo shot came in a losing effort, there’s no denying his power supply—it went off the scoreboard, soaring over 400 feet. While Stevenson has struggled a bit since starting the season 20 games later than everyone else, he’s been hot of late, and he’s the only Anteater to stroke a home run over the right-center field wall—he’s done it twice.
The power potential is evident, but the Anteaters can’t rely on the long ball to carry them into Omaha. In Saturday’s win over Davis, it took an RBI groundout by Sean Madigan and Eric Deragisch’s steal of home plate to notch the victory.
Anteater baseball will always be synonymous with small-ball, but if the offense can finally consistently take-off as they have in the past, there would be no better time than right now. Obviously the same goes for the defense, but if the offense can perform closer to its potential, there will be far less scrutiny on the fielding.