By: Jordan Medina
UC Irvine baseball (23-13, 10-2) bounced back from a three game losing streak to win the last two games of a critical series against the UC Davis Aggies (21-16-1, 5-7).
“We’re in a situation where the next game is the most important game,” coach Mike Gillespie said. “You lose some games and your mentality can’t be the same.”
In the series opener, the ‘Eaters lost to the UC Davis Aggies, 8-3. A complete game effort from UC Davis’ pitcher Spencer Koopmans kept the UC Irvine bats at bay, as the Eaters were only able to get three runs. The ‘Eaters were able to get within 4-3 in the fourth inning and were able to get runners on base in every inning after, but they couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities, leaving nine runners on base.
UCI junior starting pitcher Elliot Surrey struggled as he gave up six runs in five and two out of three innings to the Aggies, the most he’s given up since 2014 against Long Beach State when he also gave up six runs. It was a rough day for the pitching staff as they couldn’t avoid UC Davis’ bats, giving up 16 hits.
In the second game of the series, the ‘Eaters fell behind again but came back to win a 12 inning thriller, 4-3. Junior starting pitcher Matt Esparza got off to a slow start, giving up a couple runs early on, but got himself out of a few jams and settled down to pitch nine and 1/3 innings and throw nine strikeouts, both career highs.
“I’m impressed and I’m proud of him,” said coach Gillespie. “It took him a little bit to find the rhythm of all his pitches…but he did and he kept his poise and he battled through a lot.”
Despite Esparza’s efforts, UCI found themselves down 3-1 in the eighth inning when UC Davis turned the ball over to their closer, Zach Stone, who had entered the game with zero earned runs allowed this year. Stone walked a couple batters and loaded the bases before sophomore Evan Cassolato came off the bench and hit a two RBI single, tying the game and giving Stone his first earned run of the year.
“When it was my time to go up there, I wanted to stay aggressive and do the best thing I could to contribute for the team,” said Cassolato.
After neither team scored in the ninth, the game entered extra innings. The Aggies threatened to score in the 12th inning, getting runners on second and third before freshman Cameron Bishop, who took over for Esparza, got out of the jam with no runs allowed.
In the bottom half of the frame, senior Kris Paulino reached base on a Davis error and waited on third as the potential winning run. During the Aggie pitcher’s windup, Paulino ran home, drawing a balk and winning the game for UCI, 4-3.
The series finale saw the ‘Eaters in throwback jerseys and saw them score another come from behind victory as they won the rubber match, 6-3. Senior starter Evan Manarino pitched well throwing seven plus strong innings and striking out eight batters before Bishop replaced him to shut the door and preserve the win.
“Whenever you can get run support from your team, it makes your life a lot easier to just go out and pitch and try to put up zeroes for the lineup to keep your team in it,” Manarino said.
UCI was down 2-0 entering the bottom of the fourth before scoring three runs in an inning that saw them put seven consecutive batters on base. Insurance runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth helped the team put the Aggies away, but UC Davis didn’t go out quietly, loading the bases in the eighth and sending the potential game tying run to the plate in the ninth before UC Davis lined out to end the game and the series.
The Anteaters return to action on Tuesday at UCLA as they start the first of nine straight road games before returning to Cicerone Field on May 8 for a three game series against Cal Poly.