Lone Star Statement

Marlon Castillo | New University

Marlon Castillo | New University

Baseball: UCI swept no. 23 Baylor with a surprising power outburst after an emotianal first pitch.

Baylor 4, UCI 6

957 fans in attendance, kettle corn wafts through the air and a muscly man with a Brooklyn accent and hair like a Neanderthal shouts “Rip ’Em!” with a yellow scarf around his neck. Nine young men sprint out to their positions one by one after a queue from the public address announcer, stirrups gliding over infield dirt. No grass or gravel stains on the pinstriped pants, yet. It could only mean one thing —  opening day at Cicerone Field.

Coming out of a disappointing fourth place finish in the Big West Conference in 2012, the UC Irvine baseball team opened up its 2013 campaign on Feb. 15 with a 6-4 non-conference victory over no. 23 Baylor.

With Andrew Thurman itching to take the hill for the first time as a junior, UCI’s ace wasn’t granted the honor of tossing the first pitch of the season. That distinction was reserved for 11-year-old Emily Morales, the sister of UCI pitcher Andrew Morales. Having battled leukemia for over 18 months, Emily trotted out to the mound for the ceremonial first toss of the 2013 season. She one-hopped her catcher before being scooped up by older brother Andrew, who ran off the field with Emily in his arms.

Marlon Castillo | New University

Marlon Castillo | New University

“That was big. I live with Mo (Morales), so I know the family really well,” Thurman said. “Emily is a huge part of Mo’s life, so that was great for him.”

Senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer noted that Morales, a junior transfer from Rio Hondo Community College, has missed team events from time to time to be by Emily’s side throughout the offseason.

“You could tell she was liking it,” Shaeffer said of Emily’s minute on the field. “Super Fan and his people had a sign that spelled out her name. It was a special moment and I’m glad that we were able to do stuff like that out here.”

Following an 8-3 season as a sophomore, Thurman started for the ’Eaters, striking out the first two batters swinging in the first frame of the season.

Baylor’s starting pitcher, Ryan Smith, held a no-hitter through 2.2 innings before imploding. The Anteaters erupted for five runs in the bottom of the third; two came off of junior transfer Dominique Taylor’s frozen rope single to centerfield, breaking Baylor’s only lead of the ballgame.

“[That hit] felt great,” Taylor said after starting in centerfield for his first game of Division I action. “That’s why you play the game. The fans are going crazy and that put us ahead. I felt really good about that.”

All six runs that UCI scored on Friday evening came with two outs. Coming out of a redshirt season, Shaeffer lead Irvine with a 3-4 performance, including an RBI single. Behind the dish, Shaeffer also gunned down a would-be base stealer for the first out of the fifth inning, reestablishing his reputation as one of the toughest collegiate catchers to steal a base with him behind the plate.

Marlon Castillo | New University

Marlon Castillo | New University

Thurman was yanked, with UCI up 6-1, after inducing a flyout to left field for the second out of the sixth inning. The ace allowed five hits and one earned run in 5.2 innings, striking out four over 92 pitches. Thurman was somewhat wild in his first start of the season, falling to several 3-1 and 3-2 counts throughout the evening. But Thurman wasn’t hit hard. He commanded his slider and fastball, and missed in the right locations, avoiding damage.

“I think Thurman was good,” Manager Mike Gillespie said. “He dodged some bullets and pitched out of trouble. He got behind some hitters, but kind of grinded it out.”

In relief of Thurman came Morales for his first appearance as an Anteater. Last season, Morales was the California Community College Pitcher of the Year. On Friday night, Morales retired three batters but left the game after hanging  an offspeed pitch to Baylor leadoff man Nathan Orf, who banged it over the left field wall for a three-run home run. After an emotional moment pregame with his little sister, Morales entered his first Division I game with his manager second-guessing himself.

“Without meaning to make this sound like an alibi, I think [Morales] was just as nervous as possible,” Gillespie said. “It was a debate in my own brain whether to play him tonight or not, because he’s really close with his sister.”

Who was more nervous to pitch on Friday night: Emily or Andrew Morales?

“I’d hope it was his sister, but I don’t know,” Shaeffer said. “He threw well and has thrown well throughout the fall. Hopefully he wasn’t too nervous coming in. We had confidence in him and hopefully he had confidence in himself.”

Morales was lifted for left-handed freshman Elliot Surrey with two outs in the seventh inning, leading 6-4. Surrey tossed 1.1 innings without allowing a baserunner in his first collegiate appearance. Closer Race Parmenter then entered in the ninth, striking out the first two batters. Parmenter then surrendered a double and walked a batter to put the go-ahead run at the plate.

2-4 on the evening, Baylor’s Nathan Orf stepped up to the plate, two innings after tattooing Morales’ offering over the left field wall. Instead of having a career night, Orf grounded out to sophomore third baseman Taylor Sparks to end the threat and the ballgame.

“There was a lot to like,” Gillespie said. “That was a good win against a good team.

Baylor 0, UCI 5

During his final bullpen session in preparation for Saturday’s start last Tuesday, Matt Whitehouse listened in as pitching coach Danny Bibona told him to “attack the zone.”

“Let’s be aggressive and get back to having a chip on our shoulders,” Bibona said.

Against Baylor in game two, Whitehouse and senior Kyle Hooper did as they were told, allowing just four baserunners and striking out 10 batters combined to improve to 2-0 on the season.

In his first appearance since the 2011 Super Regional, Whitehouse returned to the hill on Saturday afternoon and extended his perfect career record to 5-0 as an Anteater. Whitehouse allowed just three Baylor baserunners (two hits, one walk) in 6.1 innings, striking out six.

UCI scattered two runs in the second, one in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Catcher Jerry McClanahan got the ’Eaters on the board in the second with an RBI single and was knocked in on an RBI double off the bat of shortstop Chris Rabago. Ronnie Shaeffer later knocked Dominique Taylor in on a groundout to third base in the fourth to extend the lead to three.

Freshman Grant Palmer added an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. Sophomore designated hitter Connor Spencer was 2-3 with a walk and an RBI, hitting in the cleanup spot.

With one out in the seventh inning, senior Kyle Hooper relieved Whitehouse and picked up right where the southpaw left off. Hooper threw 2.2 innings, giving up just one hit and striking out four batters in his first appearance of the season. The 5-0 win marked the sixth straight season that the Anteaters have started 2-0.

 Baylor 3, UCI 15

In the Sunday matchup, UCI trailed Baylor 3-2  heading into the bottom of the fifth inning. Nine hits and 11 runs later, UCI entered the top of the sixth with a 13-3 lead.  Junior centerfielder Dominique Taylor had a sacrifice fly and a two run double in the fifth. Taylor ended his first series in pinstripes with two doubles and five RBI on the day.

Designated hitter Jerry McClanahan launched a three-run home run in the 11 run fifth, scoring Ronnie Shaeffer and Taylor Sparks. Shaeffer went 3 for 5 with an RBI, while Sparks was 3-4 with a home run, a double and 4 RBI.

UCI added two more runs in the sixth and held Baylor scoreless from the fifth inning on.

In his collegiate debut, freshman Mikey Duarte impressed with a 3-4 day at the plate, scoring three runs and knocking in another.

On the mound,  redshirt junior Evan Brock started and threw four innings, allowing three earned runs off of six hits. Brock struck out six before handing the ball over to Andrew Morales in the fifth inning.

After allowing a three-run homer to end his outing on Friday night, Morales settled into a groove in the series finale, pitching two scoreless innings in relief.

Junior southpaw Jimmy Litchfield then took the ball and pitched a scoreless seventh, allowing one hit.

Sam Moore threw a perfect eighth for the Anteaters, striking out one. And in the ninth, senior lefty Andy Lines allowed two hits and struck out two, shutting the door on the Baylor Bears.

Following a series sweep, UCI welcomes the Cal Golden Bears (3-0) for a four game series at Cicerone Field that starts Friday, followed by a double-header on Saturday, and the finale on Sunday.

Cal’s pitching staff was tested over the weekend, winning two extra inning games en route to a  sweep of Michigan.