In a matchup against USC, which Coach Mike Gillespie certainly highlighted in the ’Eaters schedule, UC Irvine (9-3) was able to extend their current win streak to seven and defeat Coach Gillespie’s alma mater, USC (8-3) with a score of 6-4 behind the clutch hitting of junior outfielder, Kris Paulino and the shutdown pitching out bullpen.
Kris Paulino knocked in a career best three runs on three of four hitting while reaching base four times. Paulino’s career night, now gives him a team leading 11 RBIs on the season, and has propelled the ’Eaters to win nine out of their last ten contests.
UC Irvine struggled to begin the game, falling behind the Trojans early by giving up a two-run homerun to freshman Jeremy Martinez in the top of the first. After USC tacked on another run in the top of the fourth by an RBI single by short stop Blake Lacey, the ’Eaters mounted their comeback at the bottom half of the fourth inning.
The ’Eaters rally started off with three consecutive one-out walks to load the bases for Paulino, who ripped a double down the left field line to score Jerry McClanahan and Ryan Cooper and get the ’Eaters on the board. Junior short stop Chris Rabago then added another run to the score with an RBI base hit to right to tie the game at three. Taylor Sparks continued the trend by driving a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring Paulino and giving the ’Eaters their first lead of the game. First basemen Connor Spencer also joined in on the hit parade by driving in Rabago on a two out base hit to give the ’Eaters an overwhelming five run inning in the fourth.
That’s all UC Irvine’s bullpen would need as redshirt sophomore Kyle Davis took the ball from starter Evan Manarino who allowed three runs on three innings to start the game. Davis allowed only three hits while pitching 21/3 scoreless innings before turning over the ball to senior Jimmy Litchfield who allowed one run in the top of the seventh but struck out in his 1 2/3 innings of relief.
The game was essentially shut down when Coach Gillespie gave the ball to junior closer Sam Moore, the nation’s leader in saves, who came into the game in the top of the eight and pitched two innings of hitless ball and struck out two to earn his sixth save of the season. Sam Moore, who is leading the nation in eight appearances and six saves, is averaging just over a strikeout per nine innings. Moore has undoubtedly been a vital part of the success of the ’Eaters pitching early in the season.
The ’Eater’s pitching staff holds a conference lead, team earn-run average in 1.56, a mark almost half a run ahead of the next university.
All in all, Coach Gillespie attests that pitching has been the key to UC Irvine’s early success. In what started off as a concern for Coach Gillespie has turned out to be the ’Eaters biggest strength. Coach Gillespie spoke on Moore’s efforts to start the season;
“He’s the MVP, for sure, if you had such [numbers] after so many games we’ve played, he’s been the guy for us,” Coach Gillespie said. “He’s a tough guy; he’s just a tough guy with this genuine confidence that enables him to not be afraid. An uncommon psyche that enables him to be what he is; it’s a toughness that’s hard to come by.”
Needless to say, Gillespie was really pleased with the team’s effort Tuesday night, and celebrates his win over his alma mater.
The ’Eaters returned to the field on Saturday, March 9 to beat Gonzaga 1-0.