BIG WEST: UCI wrapped up regular season play after taking 2-3 over LBSU to come in 4th place in conference.
USC 6, UCI 4
“I’m embarrassed, I’m embarrassed, I’m embarrassed.”
Those were the only words manager Mike Gillespie could utter after his UC Irvine baseball team dropped their fifth consecutive game to the visiting USC Trojans on Tuesday, May 21. The loss marked the longest streak of losses in Gillespie’s tenure as UCI’s manager and the first time for the program since the 2004 season. Unfortunately, the string of losses came at the worst time for the Anteaters, who needed a win to stay in contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
After a devastating weekend at Cal State Fullerton where the Titans swept the Anteaters, UCI’s postseason opportunities were very slim. If that weekend series at Fullerton didn’t eliminate the ’Eaters, Tuesday’s loss to USC might have been the dagger.
Evan Brock got the start for the ’Eaters in their final midweek, non-conference game of the season. After tossing four strong innings of shutout baseball, Brock was pulled from the game, giving way to a carousel of Irvine pitchers — the same bullpen that struggled to close the door in the three games at Fullerton.
The combination of Kyle Hooper and Mitch Merten allowed four runs in a third of an inning, giving up a 3-0 lead that the Anteaters had built in the first four innings. Jimmy Litchfield entered with one out in the top of the fifth inning and retired the side, pitching a scoreless 1.2 innings before Philip Ferragamo allowed two more runs in the top of the seventh. UCI got one run back in the bottom of the seventh, but it was not enough as USC sustained a 6-4 lead. Merten was tagged with the loss as he fell to 4-3 on the season.
The top four batters in the lineup were the lone contributors for the Anteaters. Chris Rabago, Dominique Taylor, Connor Spencer and Taylor Sparks each contributed an RBI for Irvine. They accounted for four of the Anteaters’ seven hits. Taylor led the team with two hits in four at-bats while scoring a run and driving one runner in.
“I’m sick about it because it was an important game for us,” Gillespie said. “It was a disgusting performance.”
LB 4, UCI 10
In 2011, UCI ace Matt Summers no-hit the Long Beach State Dirtbags at home. Last season, Andrew Thurman tossed a no-no at Long Beach.
On Thursday night at Cicerone Field, however, thoughts of a third no-hitter were quickly dismissed as the Dirtbags got to Thurman early, touching him up for two runs in the top of the first inning to take an early 2-0 lead. The ’Eaters responded with seven runs of their own in the bottom half of the first and never looked back, snapping their five-game losing streak and defeating Long Beach 10-4 in the series opener.
In what was likely the last game for pitcher Andrew Thurman in an Anteater uniform, the junior logged his seventh career complete game and tied his career-high 11 strikeouts in 117 pitches. After allowing three straight hits to start the game, Thurman settled down and retired 12 consecutive batters — six off strikeouts — before allowing a hit in the top fifth.
“Thurman settled down [after the first] and was good for a long time in an important game for us,” Mike Gillespie said. “He wanted to be out there. We had made the change [in the top of the ninth inning], but he wanted to go out there [for the final three outs].”
Thurman received a lot of help from the Anteater offense early and often. Sophomore Chris Rabago started things off with a one-out single, later scoring on a Taylor Sparks two-out hit to left. Irvine would string together a total of six two-out hits as they put up seven runs of support in the first inning. The Anteaters finished the game with 16 hits and were led by Chris Rabago and Jeff Stephens, who both finished the game going 3-for-5.
The Anteaters were able to get to Long Beach State ace, Shane Carle, one week after the pitcher received Big West Pitcher of the Week honors. Carle threw two consecutive complete games before taking the mound at Cicerone Field on Thursday. He didn’t make it out of the first inning.
In a must-win game for his team, Thurman delivered in spite of a lot of emotion surrounding the game.
“If this ends up being my last start here, I’m excited, thankful for what UCI has done for me and what the coaches have done for me,” Thurman said. “I just tried to go out there and have fun [tonight], enjoy it while I can.”
Thurman ranks eighth all-time in UCI history with 224 strikeouts. He’s projected to be a first or second round pick in next month’s MLB Draft.
“He’s special,” Gillespie said. “He’s never missed a turn. He’s never been hurt, never cries, whines, pouts, complains. He’s been real good [for us]. We’re going to miss him.”
LB 4, UCI 8
A season-best home crowd of 1,730 flocked to Cicerone Field on Friday to support the Anteaters in their final night game of the season. Pitcher Matt Whitehouse took the mound for Irvine, tossing six shutout innings before getting touched up in the top half of the seventh inning for four runs. His work on the mound was enough to preserve an 8-4 lead over the Dirtbags in the second game of the series.
Whitehouse made his last start in an Anteater uniform. The redshirt junior chose to forgo his last year of eligibility in order to graduate after four years at UCI. The southpaw made 14 starts this season and finished with a 5-6 record and 3.29 ERA. Whitehouse should get looks by MLB teams in the draft in the middle to late rounds.
Irvine’s bats remained hot. Four Anteaters recorded multi-hit games led by Chris Rabago’s 3-4, three RBI night.
Dominique Taylor, Taylor Sparks and Ronnie Shaeffer each scored two runs and went 2-4 from the plate. Sparks led off the second with a towering, solo home run to left field. It was his 10th home run of the season, tying him for third in the UCI single-season record books for home runs.
Irvine also got contributions from Jeff Stephens and Scott Gottschling, who finished the night with two RBI each.
“It was a good offensive night,” Mike Gillespie said. “Whitehouse was good. They touched him up a little, but he was good. It was a good win for us.”
LB 3, UCI 2
Coming into Sunday’s game, the Anteaters’ chances of sneaking into postseason play were little to none. Any chance of making the NCAA Tournament would require a lot of help and a lot of luck from teams across Division I baseball. The first step, however, would be a three-game sweep of Long Beach State.
“You play and see what happens,” Mike Gillespie said after Friday’s game, acknowledging the slim chances his team had of making the tournament.
Those chances were most likely diminished, as the Anteaters’ Senior Day was ended in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Dirtbags. The game marked what appears to be the final game for catcher Ronnie Shaeffer, outfielders Jeff Stephens and Scott Gottschling, and pitchers Andy Lines and Race Parmenter in an Anteater uniform.
Andrew Morales took his 10-0 record to the mound on Saturday, hoping to become the first pitcher since Christian Bergman in 2008 to finish the season with a sub-2.00 ERA. He gave up two earned runs across eight innings of work, enough to finish his season with a 1.89 ERA.
Morales also finished with nine strikeouts, but did not factor into the decision, preserving his perfect record.
After giving up a solo home run with two outs in the first inning, Morales settled in and allowed just two hits and no runs until the seventh inning.
Evan Brock took over pitching duties in the top ninth inning with the game tied at two, and surrendered the go-ahead run after a two-out single kept the inning alive for the Dirtbags. The next batter tripled home the man on first, and the Anteaters went in order in the final inning.
UCI strung together just four hits — all of which came in the first three innings. The loss marked a disappointing end to a season in which the Anteaters were expected to be legitimate contenders for a Big West title.
Gillespie said, “I’ve seldom felt this team hasn’t competed. That’s not a complaint I have about this group. They’ve shown a lot of heart.”