The UC Irvine bats got hot, and they did just in time.
Too many times this season the team has not backed up their stud starting pitchers. Whether it was the bullpen giving up leads, defensive errors allowing runners and scores, or the bats being dormant, the team has mustered some disappointing losses.
Here are the statistics for the four starting pitchers through Saturday:
•Scott Gorgen- 10-3, 1.90 ERA
•Bryce Stowell- 7-2, 3.04 ERA
•Daniel Bibona, 7-3, 3.35 ERA
•Christian Bergman 5-2, 1.40 ERA
Gorgen has three losses and two no-decisions with that filthy 1.90 ERA. The Anteaters do face their opponent’s best pitcher when Gorgen takes the mound, but with a team batting average of .304 they should muster more runs up for the future major leaguer.
The Anteaters’ bats are known to get going late in games, and I guess that’s better than not getting going. It’s just easier on the heart when one’s team gets an early lead.
But scratch what I just said. The Anteaters are back!
UCI’s 14-7 win over a solid UC Santa Barbara was deemed by Coach Mike Gillespie as “the most important win of the year.” It was important, not because it was Coach’s 800th career-collegiate win, but it signified a turnaround and a performance needed by the Anteaters to carry into the postseason.
The Anteaters did demolish Loyola Marymount University 18-1 last Wednesday, but found themselves in a funk again when they only scored two runs on Friday night to fall to UCSB’s replacement starter 6-2.
On Saturday, there was just something different about the offense. The defensive struggles were there, but that’s finally bailed out a rarely off Stowell by pounding home 14 runs.
The Anteaters got on the scoreboard early like they did earlier in the season with three runs in the first on a double by Tony Asaro to score Ben Orloff and on a two-run single by Francis Larson.
Asaro would strike again in third, but it was not without any dramatics. With runners on second and third, and one out, Asaro squared up to bunt on a 1-1 pitch count. The pitch came, and it was apparent that Asaro was hit on the left ankle with the pitch. Asaro advanced to first on the Hit By Pitch, without any hesitation.
As Asaro got to first, home plate umpire Dwayne Finley called Asaro back after what seemed to be a lifetime of a wait. The 1,048 in attendance at Anteater Ballpark got on their feet and gave it to the umpires. No one could say they had ever seen anything like it. Parents and kids were yelling, and the dugout was confused. The moment was capped off when Coach Gillespie got in the faces of the umpires and showed his rage.
“What a circus that was. Who has ever seen something like that before? Unbelievable. [The umpiring crew] had a rough night out there tonight,” Gillespie said.
Obviously he couldn’t reverse the minds of the umpires a second time, but the seemingly egregious call had a positive effect on the Anteaters. The team was focused and locked in.
Asaro trotted back to the plate and lasered the very next pitch up the middle for a two-run scoring single.
Anteater Ballpark was electrified, and the team, for the first time, looked like a dangerous force.
Though UCSB scored four runs at the top of the sixth, the Anteaters added two runs in the inning before ,and began the barrage in the bottom of the sixth.
With two outs and Orloff on second base, UCI struck six straight hits and took a convincing 14-6 lead.
The momentum carried over to the bullpen for the Anteaters, as Bergman, Chris Lopez and Tom Calahan combined for 2.1 shutout innings. Stowell left with a solid start. He went 5.2 innings with six strikeouts, two walks and three earned runs. He probably would have had a more impressive stat line if the three unearned runs didn’t score.
The Anteaters strung together 16 hits on the day against a solid pitcher and bullpen. UCSB starter Maro Hollands fell to 7-3 on the year for a Gaucho team is in the top five of the Big West Conference. Asaro finished four for five with four RBIs, and Orloff finished four for four at the plate.
The aura of Anteater Stadium and the team was different that night. Everyone had seen something special, and was encouraged for the post season. Questions about the team’s inconsistency seemed to have subsided; they looked like a completely different team.
Orloff said about the hot hitting, “It was contagious tonight. There was a fight to the bat rack tonight … everyone just wanted to be the next guy up.”
The team on Saturday night looked like the Anteaters of last season, minus the occasional defensive hiccups. Everyone was contributing, pitching was solid despite what the scoreboard said, and every man was playing for the man next to him. The Anteaters are having fun again.
And we all saw what happened last year when the Anteaters were having fun.