Anteaters Clutch Late at Cicerone

BASEBALL: Improving to 10-2, the ’Eaters take three-of-four over Portland, Whitehouse throws complete game.

Portland 1, UCI 10

Wearing their new all-gray Adidas jerseys on Sunday afternoon, the UC Irvine baseball team (10-2) won with ease, sprinkling 10 runs over four different innings, including a five-run second to take the series over Portland (3-10), 3-1.

“This was a good weekend for us,” Manager Mike Gillespie said.

Irvine started 6-5 last season and is off to a hot start. While the Anteater pitching staff has been solid and a number of players have stepped up at the plate, senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer and junior centerfielder Dominique Taylor have been instrumental to the team’s success, and continued to stroke the ball against Portland.

Shaeffer had two two-hit games over the weekend, while Taylor drove in the go-ahead run in both games of the Saturday double-header.

“Mainly, I’ve just been having fun this year and that’s helped me at the plate. I’ve been loading earlier and not rushing,” Shaeffer said.

After going 0-5 in the team’s loss on Friday night, Taylor was a combined 6-12, with six RBI in Irvine’s three weekend wins, including 3-4 with two RBI in the finale on Sunday.

“It’s uncanny how well [Taylor] has done (in his first season with the team),” Gillespie said. “He seems to come up in big situations every game in that number two spot with runners on base.”

On the hill for the Anteaters in the finale was junior Andrew Morales, who tossed 6.2 innings, allowing one earned run and striking out five.

Morales was relieved by senior Evan Brock, who hadn’t thrown since being lifted from his start in the first series of the year. After a couple of weeks off from recovering from elbow ailments, Brock tossed 1.1 innings with a walk, a hit batter and one strikeout.

“He’s been shut down for a few weeks,” Gillespie said of Brock. “We’ll see how his elbow responds after today.”

There was no recovering from a second inning meltdown for Portland. The Anteaters started the inning with seven consecutive hits. After three consecutive singles from Taylor Sparks, Kris Paulino and Chris Rabago, followed by a double by Ryan Cooper, Jeff Stephens and Dominique Taylor joined the hit parade, smacking singles of their own.

Five runs later, the Anteaters batted around, as the tenth hitter of the inning, Sparks, flied out to centerfield.

In the fourth, UCI tacked on two more runs on a two-run sacrifice bunt by Connor Spencer, as Taylor took off from second base and snuck in for a second run after Spencer was thrown out by Portland’s pitcher at first.

Taylor then stroked an RBI single in the sixth, but was picked off at first to end the inning.

Up 8-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Paulino knocked in a run on a groundout to short, and Rabago singled to right, scoring Shaeffer for another insurance run.

With a 10-1 lead in the ninth, closer Race Parmenter got some work in a non-save situation, allowing one hit, striking out one and inducing a flyout to first base to end the ballgame.

Portland 7, UCI 8

Down 7-4 in the bottom of the ninth, UCI scored four runs, capped off by a walk-off single by Dominique Taylor. Taylor knocked in the go-ahead run in both games of the double-header on Saturday.

With senior Kyle Hooper on the bump, Irvine led 3-0 through five innings. Hooper was then touched up for four earned runs in the sixth as Portland took a 4-3 lead. In his second outing of the series, junior reliever Jimmy Litchfield recorded the final out of the sixth.

In the bottom of the sixth, sophomore shortstop Chris Rabago singled to center, knocking right fielder Kris Paulino in from second to tie the ballgame at four.

Litchfield allowed a leadoff triple to start the seventh and was replaced by right-hander Phil Ferragamo, who allowed Litchfield’s runner to score from third on a wild pitch. Catcher Ronnie Shaeffer later gunned down a would-be base stealer for the second out of the inning before Ferragamo struck out Portland’s No. 2 hitter for his second strikeout of the inning, ending the top of the seventh.

Portland tacked on one run apiece in the top of the eighth and ninth to extend their lead to 7-4 before deconstructing in the ninth.

To start the bottom of the ninth, Paulino and Rabago drew two straight walks. With runners on first and second, freshman Jordan Morrison pinch hit, singling through the 3-4 hole to close the gap to 7-5.

Ryan Cooper then squared to bunt with runners on first and second, attempting to sacrifice. Portland’s freshman pitcher, Billy Sahlinger, misplayed the sacrifice attempt, loading the bases for the Anteaters with no outs.

Already 2-4 at the plate, senior left fielder Jeff Stephens stepped up with a runner at every base and struck a two-run double, tying the game at 7. Cooper was held at third with no outs and two runners in scoring position. Taylor then stoked the game-winner to left with the infield drawn in, capping off the four-run ninth and sweeping the double-header.

Portland 1, UCI 3

Welcome back, Matt Whitehouse. Last season, UCI shut their left-handed starting pitcher down for the season after shoulder and ribcage ailments in the early going. In the first game of a double-header on Saturday, Whitehouse tossed a complete game, allowing one run and just five baserunners en route to his second win of the season. Whitehouse still hasn’t been on the losing end of a decision in his collegiate career.

The Anteaters scored their first three runs of the series in the third inning, punctuated by Dominique Taylor’s two-run triple, followed by an RBI single by Ronnie Shaeffer. Despite the three-run third, Irvine’s bats remained relatively quiet for the second straight game, recording just six hits in the win.

With the tying run on first base in the top of the eighth, UCI stuck with Whitehouse in a 3-1 ballgame. Whitehouse fielded his own position with two outs, throwing out No. 2 hitter Brian Frattali at first to end Portland’s threat.

In the ninth, Whitehouse only needed nine pitches to retire the side in order, finishing off a dominant performance for the first win of the series.

Portland 2, UCI 0  

The bats didn’t come through for junior ace Andrew Thurman (1-1) on Friday night. After surrendering two runs in the first inning, Thurman settled down and held Portland scoreless for the remainder of the evening. Without a single run of support from the of fense, Thurman took his first loss of the season.

Thurman started the game by walking the leadoff man, who was then sacrificed over to second. After inducing an infield flyout, Thurman walked another batter and then allowed two straight singles with two outs, surrendering two runs in the first frame. He would go on to throw 6.2 innings, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out four batters.

At the plate, the Anteaters had just five hits but drew five walks. Irvine struggled to execute in the first game of the series, stranding 11 runners on base.

Despite an off night for the rest of his teammates at the plate, Shaeffer stayed hot, stroking two singles to up his average to .489 on the young season.

In the seventh inning, Jimmy Litchfield took over for Thurman with two outs, then pitched a scoreless eighth. Phil Ferragamo tossed a scoreless ninth, striking out two batters.

With a runner on second in the bottom of the ninth, Taylor came to the plate as the potential tying run. Taylor flied out to left field, closing out his zero-for-five performance and the Anteaters’ second loss of the season.