More Like Over’Eaters
It isn’t often that spring baseball is characterized by rainfall in Orange County; nevertheless the turnout was 385 bodies in attendance on an overcast Friday afternoon at Cicerone Field for Opening Day. Super Fan was back perched behind home plate. The long, brown-haired man adorned in a navy blue ’Eaters jersey voiced his piercing support, heckling with colored commentary in midseason form. “Rip ‘Em!”, he yelled, followed by an enthusiastic “’Eaters!” from Irvine supporters hiding under umbrellas. It could only mean one thing: baseball season is back.
The rain clouds hovered ominously as the UC Irvine Anteaters took the field for their first game of the season at home against the University of Nevada.
Scattered showers dampened the infield soil, while the showers from the Anteaters’ bats dampened Nevada coach Gary Powers’ forehead with sweat in UCI’s 17-4 blowout victory. Irvine scored at least one run in six of their eight innings at-bat, en route to their largest Opening Day margin of victory in school history (The previous record margin was nine in 1972 and 2005).
The ’Eater lineup chased Wolfpack starter Tom Jameson from the game after recording just four outs, having taxed the Nevada pitcher for eight runs, four of which were unearned.
“We really came out swinging the bats well,” senior third baseman Brian Hernandez said. “One of our strengths is how deep our lineup is one through nine. We have tough outs all the way through the lineup.”
On the mound, junior starter Matt Summers’ threw just two and a third innings for the Anteaters, rendering one earned run. Summers’ lack of control lead head coach Mike Gillespie to pull him early after loading the bases with two hit batsman and one walk in the third inning.
Freshman Andrew Thurman took over for Summers in his first collegiate appearance. Thurman threw 3.2 innings, earning his first win with three strikeouts, three earned runs and six hits.
“Thurman came in and pounded the zone and had good tempo,” Hernandez said, “really showing how mature and ready he is to compete.”
Entering the fourth, UCI lead 9-2 as the rain began to pick up. Nevada changed pitchers and took their time, perhaps in hopes of a postponement. Had the game been halted due to rain, it would have been ruled unofficial without finishing five innings and the imminent blowout would have been nonexistent on each team’s record. However, Irvine poured on five more runs in the fourth and the rain subsided as the game became official after five innings.
“It was really nice getting this game in,” Hernandez said. “Without the hard work of our field guys it wouldn’t have been possible.”
The Anteaters were given the luxury of resting their starters, testing out bench players and a young pitching staff as the drizzle continued. Off the bench, senior Jonathan Hurst, sophomore Scott Gottschling and freshman Dillon Moyer pinch hit with Gottschling and Moyer remaining in the game in the field. Hurst went 1-1; Gottschling hit safely in two of his three plate appearances and Moyer went hitless in his initiation to college baseball.
Junior D.J. Crumlich was the only starter who was held hitless for the ’Eaters. The two, three and four hitters were a combined 9-14 at the plate with six RBIs. Senior right fielder Sean Madigan went 2-4 with three runs batted in. Junior catcher Ronnie Schaeffer hit seventh and drove in three runs of his own in a 2-5 day at the dish.
A string of left-handed relievers, sophomores Andy Lines and Matt Whitehouse, and freshman Jimmy Litchfield were summoned for the seventh, eighth and ninth, combining for an impressively low 30 pitches in three innings. Throwing an inning apiece, they retired the side with ease.
UCI 15, Nevada 3
UCI handled Nevada once again on Feb. 19, winning 15-3. Their loaded lineup exploded and young arms came through. The game ended in the top of the ninth inning, making it official retroactive to the eighth complete inning.
Sophomore Kyle Hooper earned the victory in his first career start. Throwing five innings, Hooper worked effectively, striking out five while allowing two runs. Junior Nick Hoover took over in the sixth, recording 1.1 innings, allowing one earned run and striking out two in middle relief. Lines remained hot, setting down five straight batters in the seventh and eighth.
Seven of the nine starting position players hit safely. At leadoff, Crumlich was 3-4 with a walk and one RBI. The number two hitter, Fox, went 2-4 and drove in a career-high five runs. Hernandez was 2-4 with two walks and two RBIs. Senior Drew Hillman and Schaeffer added three hits apiece at the plate, while Madigan drove in four RBIs in a 1-4 performance.
UCI 7, Nevada 1
The skies cleared up for the Sunday finale of the weekend series. Irvine’s bats quieted down a tad, but their pitching staff held the Wolfpack at bay, finishing off the sweep.
Junior starter Crosby Slaught threw 6.1 scoreless innings before relinquishing an RBI groundout for the second out in the seventh. Whitehouse relieved Slaught, pitching 1.2 perfect innings and striking out three.
Hernandez came in for a non-save opportunity in the ninth to get work in. He recorded the two final outs, whiffing the first batter for his first strikeout of his UCI pitching career. At the plate, Hernandez hit 2-4 with two doubles and three RBIs.
Madigan went 3-4, hitting .500 in the series. Hillman was 2-3 with a double, a sacrifice fly and two RBIs.
One through nine, and even off the bench, the Anteater lineup was scary against Nevada. Over the course of the weekend, they outscored the Wolfpack 39-8 and hit .421 in an impressive offensive display.