Squeezing By, Walking Off
UCI 8, USD 7 (F12)
The Anteaters were territorial on April 19, fearing that their perfect 14-0 home record would be compromised by the University of San Diego Toreros.
When sophomore Matt Whitehouse tossed the first pitch of the contest at 6:35 p.m., he likely had no idea that the ’Eaters were in for their longest game of the season. Whitehouse started and threw 2.2 scoreless innings before Manager Mike Gillespie relieved him, as UCI used a multitude of the pitchers on staff for the midweek non-conference matchup.
Gillespie replaced Whitehouse with freshman righty Phillip Ferragamo, who rendered one run in 1.1 innings. Sophomores Kyle Hooper and Andy Lines, along with junior Nick Hoover all logged relief innings in the first seven innings.
After the Anteater offense scratched across five runs in the bottom of the seventh, freshman Andrew Thurman struggled to start the eighth and was replaced by left-handed freshman Jimmy Litchfield, who dazzled on the mound. Litchfield took the hill with no outs in the eighth with a 6-6 tie and he left three innings later, retiring the side in the 10th with the scoreboard intact.
Gillespie called upon closer Brian Hernandez to be his eighth hurler of the evening in the 11th. Hernandez threw a scoreless frame, but the Anteaters couldn’t put the game away in the bottom of the inning.
In the 12th, Hernandez surrendered a two-out double which knocked in the go-ahead run, giving USD a 7-6 lead. But Hernandez was given an opportunity to pick himself up at the plate in the bottom of the inning. Stepping up with a desire to avoid losing his first career game on the mound and improve upon his 2-4 day at the dish, Hernandez did both, stroking a single through the right side and keeping the Anteaters’ hopes alive.
Gillespie once referred to Hernandez as being unable to “win a race with his own chair,” so the skipper subbed in freshman Pierce Bily as a pinch-runner for Hernandez. Bily’s substitution was futile, because Hernandez could have jogged as slow as he wanted around the bases. The next batter, senior Drew Hillman, cranked a two-run walkoff homerun to improve the Anteater home record to 15-0.
The fourth home run of Hillman’s season and the first walk-off big fly of the Orange Coast College transfer’s life came in an opportune time, at 10:47 p.m. in the bottom of the 12th.
“I was looking for a fastball I could drive and I got it middle in,” Hillman said of the 2-1 pitch that landed outside of the confines of Cicerone Field. “The ball doesn’t carry well at night here. I thought it had enough, but wasn’t sure. I’m just glad it had enough to get out.”
UCI 3, UCD 2
In game one of the Anteaters versus Aggies series at Cicerone field on April 21, UCI edged Davis 3-2, squeezing their way to victory. Junior Tommy Reyes perfected a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded. Pushing a bunt up the first baseline, Reyes put the ball in play as junior Jordan Leyland crossed the plate to give Irvine a 3-2 lead.
The one-run advantage put junior starter Matt Summers in line for his sixth win. Summers tied a career high with eight innings pitched, giving up two runs and striking out four to improve to 6-2 on the season.
Hernandez palmed the laces in the ninth, making quick work of the Aggies. The closer threw seven pitches, all strikes, striking out two to record his eighth save of the season.
UCI 2, UCD 3 (F10)
Irvine was on the other end of a 3-2 nail-biter on April 22 in the Green Laces Game. Players sported 100 percent recycled green, plastic shoelaces to present sustainability awareness on campus. But a change in the color of shoelaces didn’t help the Anteaters on the field. UCI lost their first home game of the season and fell to third place in the Big West standings.
With a 2-1 lead entering the top of the ninth, junior starter Crosby Slaught was in line for the win. Slaught tossed 5.1 innings, surrendering just one earned run before handing the ball over to Litchfield. The southpaw held the Aggies scoreless for 2.1 innings, lowering his earned run average to 2.73 on the season.
Hernandez narrowly escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, but a costly Anteater error tied the game at two, and the quiet ’Eater bats allowed the game to get into extra innings. UCI recorded just five hits and scraped across two runs, both coming on sacrifice flies from Schaeffer and senior Sean Madigan, respectively.
Hoover came on in the 10th and rendered one earned run, which proved to be the difference when Irvine couldn’t respond in the bottom of the frame.
UCI 6, UCD 1
The Anteaters closed out their three-game set with a crucial win against Davis, dominating the Aggies hitters and notching a series-high six runs.
“We are right in the mix of things, so taking this series would keep us in the hunt for a conference championship and a playoff berth,” Hillman said prior to the series finale.
Whitehouse started his second game of the week, this time recording career highs with 7.1 innings pitched and six strikeouts. Having allowed just one earned run and six hits in his fourth start of the season, the sophomore is now 2-0 with a 2.00 earned run average.
Reyes nagged Davis once more on April 23, knocking in Schaeffer on a squeeze play in the second that also welcomed Scott Gottschling home, due to an Aggies error. Not often does a bunt drive in two runs, but the Anteaters took it, and held a 2-0 lead until the fifth.
Davis scored their lone run in the top of the fifth, but UCI quickly widened the margin to 5-1 in the bottom half.
With an additional insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, Thurman coasted through the last five outs, pitching a scoreless 1.2 innings and giving up just one hit in relief of Whitehouse.
With two of three wins against Davis, the No. 18 Anteaters move to 26-10 overall and 8-4 in conference.
The Anteaters play at UCLA on April 26, and then travel upstate to play against Cal State Bakersfield from April 29-May 1.