UCI’s Last Home Hurrah

scott roeder | Staff Photographer Jeff Cusick takes the throw from Eric Pettis checking on the runner at first. UC Irvine won the game 9-6.

scott roeder | Staff Photographer
Jeff Cusick takes the throw from Eric Pettis checking on the runner at first. UC Irvine won the game 9-6.

UCI 5 UCR 0

Christian Bergman is taking a liking to his temporary role as the No. 1 starter. Filling in for injured ace Daniel Bibona, Bergman fired eight shutout innings only giving up six hits as UC Irvine took down UC Riverside 5-0.

UCI got all the offense they needed in the second inning. Backup catcher turned designated hitter Jonathan Hurst hit a triple and was driven in with redshirt junior Ryan Fisher executing a brilliant suicide squeeze play.

Fisher had a perfect day at the plate, going 2 for 2 with two RBI and two doubles. Casey Stevenson added two hits of his own, while pinch hitter Dillon Bell collected a hit, RBI, and run scored during his only plate appearance.

Riverside’s only serious threat came in the seventh, when center fielder Tony Nix hit a single up the middle, followed by a double to left from third baseman Eddie Young. However, the next batter hit a grounder to first upon which Jeff Cusick fired home to nail Nix at home. Bergman then struck out Trevor Hairgrove, but walked the next batter to load the bases. The senior right-hander was able to bear down though, getting a fly ball for the final out.

Eric Pettis struck out the side in the ninth, locking up the 33rd victory of the year for UCI. Bergman improved to 7-3 on the year with the dominant performance.

UCI 12 UCR 15

A resilient Anteater offense came back three times but ended up falling to the Highlanders 15-12 in a 12-inning extravaganza on Saturday.

Freshman Evan Brock had a rough start, giving up four runs in the second inning en route to allowing five earned runs in 5.1 innings.

However, Stevenson kept up his strong hitting with a double with the bases loaded, scoring three runs. Then, Cusick added an RBI single, tying the game at four. However, by the middle of the seventh, UCR had retaken a 7-4 lead.

The Anteaters once again refused to lie down, batting around the order in the bottom of the seventh, scoring six runs to claim a 10-7 lead.

However, the Anteater bullpen, which had already burned through Nick Hoover, Matt Whitehouse, Kyle Hooper and Andy Lines by the seventh inning, were forced to turn to Kyle Necke in the eighth to try and close out the win.

Riverside’s Joey Gonzales had other plans however, as he hit his sixth home run of the year, a two-run jack to tie the game after a sacrifice fly from Hairgrove.

The Highlanders took the lead in the ninth on a fluke run, as Nix hit a double, and then came around to score on a wild pitch and then passed ball.

Catcher Francis Larson made up for his earlier miscue by hitting a clutch double to score pinch runner Scott Gottschling, tying the game at 11.

After scoreless tenth and eleventh innings, UCR took their final lead, scoring four runs, capped off by a home run from Robert Brantly off of UCI’s Matt Summers.

Cusick, Larson and Summers had the most impressive batting lines for the day in the losing effort for the ’Eaters, as Cusick went 4 for 7, Larson 3 for 4, and Summers 2 for 5 with 2 RBI’s.

UCI 9 UCR 6

Sunday starter Pettis went the distance, while Stevenson, Brian Hernandez, and Drew Hillman hit home runs to help UCI pick up a crucial series victory.

“It was a critical game,” Head Coach Mike Gillespie said, referring to the impending playoff picture. “There was an urgency to [the game].”

After seven scoreless innings from Pettis, Gillespie decided to leave Pettis out there for the eighth and ninth innings, even though UCI had a nine run lead at that point.

“[UCR] is a good team, and they can really hit, and for Pettis to put up seven zeroes was huge,” Gillespie said. “We really felt like the best chance we had to win was to have  [Pettis] out there the whole way.”
Hillman, who has not played as much recently, led the Anteater offense with a key 4 for 4 performance with two RBI’s and two runs scored. Meanwhile, Larson went 2 for 3 with 3 runs scored while Hernandez went 3 for 5 with two RBI’s.

Entering the final week of the regular season, UCI will take on USC on Tuesday before heading to Long Beach State for the final Big West series of the year. One of the most critical developments to keep an eye on is the return of Bibona from his inflamed rib muscles.

“There is no time table … we all thought he’d be back by now,” Gillespie said. “However, it has continued to be aggravating, and he’s not going to throw again until Tuesday. We’ll see how he feels.”
Despite missing Bibona for two weeks now, UCI has stayed afloat, with a current record of 34-18, 14-7 in the Big West.

“I’m real proud we’ve survived these two weeks without [Bibona], but we need him,” Gillespie said. “It’s not a serious injury in terms of long-lasting [impact], but it’s painful.”

The other question mark for the Anteaters is the inconsistency of the bullpen.

“Hoover has come on, and he is certainly a key guy for us right now,” Gillespie said. “But someone else has to and is going to step up. It can’t just be the three guys plus Hoover.”