This past weekend, the UC Irvine baseball team played their final weekend home series of the season against the Cal Poly-SLO Mustangs. The Eaters came in riding a five game win-streak, and looked to both continue that streak in addition to breaking a three-way tie for first place in the Big West Conference standings.
Cal Poly 9, UC Irvine 6
The Eaters kicked off their first game of the series on Friday night with Elliot Surrey (5-4) on the mound. An early infield error, one of three in the game for the Eaters, put runners on second and third base, both of whom were soon driven in by designated hitter Brian Mundell, which gave Cal Poly an early 2-0 lead.
Surrey picked up the pace though by pitching three consecutive scoreless innings, and also got some backup from the offense. A series of errors by Cal Poly scored a pair runs in the third and fourth innings, and second baseman Cole Kreuter picked up an RBI single to give UCI a 3-2 lead.
That lead diminished quickly in the fifth where Cal Poly’s bats came alive in full force. An RBI triple off the left field wall by Mundell evened the score, and the Mustangs punched in two doubles that scored three more runs. They also added three more runs in the seventh inning, which gave them a 9-4 lead.
The Eaters managed to put up a small rally in the ninth with two runs scored, but it wasn’t enough as Cal Poly broke UCI’s win-streak, and took Game 1 by a score of 9-6.
UC Irvine 9, Cal Poly 6
Looking to rebound after the Game 1 loss, the Anteaters found themselves in a deja vu situation where the Mustangs put up a five-run barrage against ace starter Matt Esparza (7-1) in the top of the third.
The Eaters were resilient in the bottom half of the inning though where they put up seven runs, all off of hits, and took an 8-5 lead. The resilience of the team’s rally for that many runs left Head Coach Mike Gillespie very impressed.
“You never plan on having seven run innings,” he said. “We’ve actually had two seven run innings in the last two weeks, and a lot of guys took part in it with big hits tonight.”
Those seven runs gave Esparza a major boost on the pitcher’s mound as he went on to record eight strikeouts, and gave up only one more earned run in the sixth inning. Sam Moore stepped in to close the final out in the ninth, giving UCI a 9-6 victory, in addition to Esparza earning his eighth win of the season.
UC Irvine 6, Cal Poly 5
Celebrating Senior Day in addition to Mother’s Day, the ‘Eaters capped off the series with a win that came down to the wire.
The Eaters scored quick in the first with an RBI triple by shortstop Mikey Duarte, followed by a Keston Hiura RBI single. A Parker Coss error in the fourth allowed one run to score for Cal Poly in the fourth, but UCI struck back in the fifth on Hiura’s fiftieth RBI of the season, which was followed by a solo home run from first baseman Mitchell Holland.
Further insurance runs were added in the sixth by Duarte once again, who hit a two-run double to increase UCI’s lead to 6-1, which proved to be pivotal for the course of the final few innings.
Senior pitcher Evan Manarino pitched strong through the first six and two-thirds innings until he was pulled after a deep two-run homer off the bat of Cal Poly slugger Zack Zehner. The Mustangs put up two more runs in the eighth and then proceeded to load up the bases in the ninth, but Sam Moore ended the nail-biting affair to leave all of them stranded, and the Eaters won the weekend series by a 6-5 score.
“It was a good win,” said shortstop Duarte, who batted in three of team’s six runs. “We were competitive the whole game and we didn’t let anything overcome us.”
With the Eaters taking the series two games to one, they improve their overall record to 31-17 and are only one game behind Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference standings. They’re set to play Loyola Marymount at home on Tuesday, and then face a key weekend conference series on the road against UC Santa Barbara.
Looking ahead at the series, Coach Gillespie remarked,
“It’s a cliche, but the next game truly and literally is the most important game. We’ve done well and come a long way since starting 0-6.”