By Timothy Gibson
After extending it to fifteen straight games with wins over Long Beach State on Friday and Saturday (19-12, 5-4 ), UC Irvine baseball (21-11, 8-1) had their winning streak snapped in Sunday’s series finale at Cicerone Field.
Friday’s game was a pitcher’s duel as Irvine’s Elliot Surrey and Long Beach’s Kyle Friedrichs both threw 7+ scoreless innings.
Surrey, a junior left-hander, baffled the Beach’s lineup for 7.2 innings with his array of off-speed pitches, giving up seven hits and two walks. While the Crescenta Valley native collected five strikeouts, he was most impressive for inducing ground balls and pop flies with his finesse style of pitching.
Friedrichs was even more dominant. He struck out eight batters over eight innings, giving up only four hits and walking none.
As the game wore on the two pitchers could only be separated by who ran out of gas first. Surrey had thrown 125 pitches when Head Coach Mike Gillespie replaced him with junior Kyle Davis in the eighth inning. Friedrichs only needed 120 to go eight complete.
Davis threw four pitches before inducing a ground ball to end the Beach’s threat, but in the ninth Gillespie opted to pitch senior lefty Evan Manarino. He struck out one before giving up a base hit and a walk. With two runners on and only one out, Gillespie decided to give the ball to senior Sam Moore. He quickly got out of jam but UCI went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game to extra innings.
Moore continued to shut down the dirtbag’s offense over the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, giving up only two hits and striking out three.
Ty Provencher replaced Friedrichs in the ninth and threw three scoreless for Long Beach, but in the twelfth Head Coach Troy Buckley inserted Logan Lombana, who the ‘Eaters figured out quickly.
In the twelfth Jerry McClanahan and Cole Kreuter got back-to-back base hits before Grant Palmer hit another. Palmer’s would have scored McClanahan to end the game, but Long Beach’s left fielder made a sliding attempt at it, forcing both runners to advance only one base.
So, with the bases loaded, one out and a 2-2 count, Kris Paulino delivered a walk-off RBI base hit scoring McClanahan to extend the win streak to fourteen straight games and secure a pitcher’s win for Moore (3-2).
After being a regular starter in the outfield last season, the senior Paulino has lost significant playing time to younger players this year.
“I felt great. A lot of relief. It was fun to contribute to the team. I haven’t been playing a whole lot, I’ve been getting my at bats sporadically so it feels great to have a good one…It feels great to reward good pitching and not let it go to waste.”
Saturday’s game was quite the contrary. UCI made it a slugfest with four-run rallies in the fourth and sixth innings, going on to win 10-4.
Irvine pitcher Matt Esparza (7-1) notched his team-leading seventh win, a total that is among the NCAA’s leaders. Over six innings the junior surrendered just one run on seven hits.
Senior catcher Jerry McClanahan and freshman center fielder Keston Hiura sparked an ‘Eaters rally in the fourth inning with back-to-back base hits, and true freshman Cameron Bishop drove them in with a gap-splitting double to deep right-center. Then first baseman Mitchell Holland hit another double, scoring Bishop. One batter later second baseman Cole Kreuter sent a fly ball to deep right field, allowing Holland to score after the catch for a sacrifice fly, making the score 4-1, ‘Eaters.
In the sixth inning UCI lengthened their lead to 8-1. Wyatt Castro hit a leadoff double and Kreuter advanced him to third with another sac fly. Mikey Duarte hit an RBI single to score Castro. One batter later Hiura hit a two-RBI single. Parker Coss scored easily from third but Duarte, who was on second, charged around third base, challenging the arm of Long Beach right fielder Zack Rivera. Duarte slid into home plate just before the tag was applied. Designated hitter Andrew Martinez grounded out to score McClanahan from third, who got on base with his 27th walk of the season.
UCI scored two more runs in the eighth inning with Coss and Duarte producing hits. Davis, Bishop, and Sean Sparling pitched in relief of Esparza, holding Long Beach to three more runs on six hits, making the final score 10-4 and extending UCI’s winning streak to fifteen games.
On Sunday UCI batters were kept off-balance by Dirtbags’ starting pitcher Chris Mathewson (4-3) in a 5-0 shutout. Mathewson sprinkled five hits over eight scoreless innings, walking two and striking out six to earn the win for Long Beach.
Irvine’s lineup could not provide any support for starting pitcher Evan Manarino (3-1), who gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits and struck out seven over six innings.
All was scoreless until the fourth inning, when Long Beach took advantage of multiple defensive miscues by Irvine. Dirtbags’ catcher Daniel Jackson got a leadoff base hit before Irvine third baseman Parker Coss made a stellar diving stop on the next hit, but first baseman Mitchell Holland couldn’t handle Coss’s low throw, allowing the batter to reach base. Then Long Beach’s Alex Bishop bunted down the third base line; Coss fielded the ball cleanly but again threw low to Holland. This time the ball got past him and allowed both runners to score. Bishop made it to second base and scored on a double by Luke Rasmussen, making the score 3-0.
Long Beach scored lone runs in the seventh and eighth, bringing the final score to 5-0.
Irvine produced a measly five hits and only put runners in scoring position twice.
“The guy that pitched for them (Mathewson) was very, very, good… and he dominated us,” said Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie.
When asked about his winning streak being ended at fifteen games, Gillespie downplayed its significance. “Well, if somebody didn’t say it was a winning streak I wouldn’t know it was…I focus on this game today. But, it has been brought to my attention…and I’m proud of it.”
Irvine was 0-6 to start the season but climbed out of that hole and is now sitting at 21-11.
Gillespie said his team’s turnaround was fueled by a solidifying starting lineup.
“We were a musical chairs operation at like five different spots, so ten or eleven guys got a chance to play in those spots. Ultimately it sorted itself out so that we finally got a lift, particularly on offense.”
Anteater baseball returns to Cicerone Field next weekend for a three-game showdown with UC Davis.