After snapping Louisiana State University’s 23-game winning streak in game one of the Super Regional with a convincing 11-5 victory, the Anteaters had every reason to believe that they would record six outs before the Tigers could score five runs.
Even when the Tigers pushed two across the board in the top of the eighth, it seemed unlikely that LSU would salvage the series with First-Team All Big West closer Eric Pettis coming on for the ninth.
But the Tigers didn’t set the South Eastern Conference record for longest winning streak by luck.
Leading 7-4 heading into the top of the ninth inning, the Anteaters were three outs away from making their second consecutive appearance in the College World Series, but LSU had other plans.
After being anemic for the previous 18 innings of the Super Regional, the highly touted LSU offense woke up with impeccable timing.
The Tigers quickly loaded the bases against Pettis before he could record an out, and then issued a full-count walk to Jared Mitchell to push a run across. Nick Pontiff followed with a fielder’s choice that scored a run, and Blake Dean delivered a single to tie the game. LSU had scored three runs before UC Irvine could record three outs—and the damage wasn’t done.
Sean Ochinko came up with an RBI double to give the Tigers the eventual game-winning run. DJ LeMahieu followed with a sacrifice fly to add salt to the wound.
The improbable comeback erased what was one of many brilliant outings by sophomore Daniel Bibona, who tossed 7.1 innings and surrendered just three earned runs to the seventh ranked team in the nation with arguably the best offense. He recorded eight strikeouts in the effort.
With the five-run ninth inning, LSU notched the victory and forced a rubber-match the following day—a game that was forgettable to say the least.
The Tigers maintained the momentum they had kindled in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game by pouring on six runs in the bottom of the first, and it never stopped. The Anteaters were trumped by a football score of 21-7 to conclude what was otherwise a very proud season.
UCI finished 42-18 (14-10 Big West) following the series loss. The Anteaters finished tied for third in the Big West, marking the second time the Anteaters have finished third in the conference since 2002. Their super regional performance was their second in as many years, and it was their fourth postseason berth in the past seven years.
The pitching staff was certainly the catalyst for UCI all season long. The `Eater pitchers compiled a 3.27 ERA, the team’s best earned run average since 1974 (2.89) and the third-lowest in the nation this year at the end of UCI’s postseason run. The pitching staff recorded nine shutouts this season, including four straight for a 36-inning scoreless streak.
Pitching coach Ted Silva proved to be an invaluable addition. The UCI staff also set the program record for strikeouts with 503, passing the previous mark by nine. It is the first time in school history that a UCI team has recorded 500 strikeouts in a season.
Pettis recorded two postseason saves to tie the single-season mark for saves by an Anteater with 17. He made 31 appearances for UCI this season to finish third in the record books.
UC Irvine currently holds the top spot in sacrifice bunts with 95 and is ranked third in ERA. The pitching staff also sits 15th in the country in strikeouts per nine innings (8.4) and hits allowed per nine innings (8.7).
Pettis is second in the nation in saves with 17 while Gorgen is third in victories with 12. Gorgen is also fifth in hits allowed per nine innings and sixth in strikeouts with 123. Christian Bergman is 10th with a 1.94 ERA while Gorgen is 19th at 2.26. Bibona is 72nd with a 3.08 ERA and Stowell sits at 87th (3.26). Bibona’s nine victories rank 30th and Stowell is 70th with eight wins.
Junior Ben Orloff’s streak of consecutive games started stretched to 155 with 60 starts this season. The shortstop has played every inning of every game since earning the starting-spot his freshman season. Orloff finished the season with a .344 average and was the team leader in doubles with 17, and was second with 78 hits and 19 stolen bases.
Six Anteaters were selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, tying for the second most Anteaters drafted in a single season with the 2007 squad holding the record with eight players drafted. UCI had six players drafted in 1983, 1988 and 2005.
Scott Gorgen was a fourth-round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals while Ollie Linton was selected in the 13th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 408th pick.
Ben Orloff was picked in the 19th round by the Colorado Rockies and redshirt sophomore pitcher Bryce Stowell was selected in the 22nd round by the Cleveland Indians. Senior catcher Aaron Lowenstein was picked in the 44th round by the San Francisco Giants and junior outfielder Tony Asaro was selected in the 47th round by the St. Louis Cardinals.