By Jordan Medina
After dropping their home opener to San Diego State and an exhibition loss to Korean professional team NC Dinos, UCI baseball (5-3) returned to their winning ways with a series sweep over the Nevada Wolf Pack (3-5).
Friday night, the ‘Eaters were led by senior starting pitcher Elliot Surrey, who allowed only one run and four hits in six innings of work while also recording five strikeouts and picking off two Nevada runners.
“The biggest thing was just compete and give my best stuff,” Surrey said. “We know we have the talent, it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.”
Both starting pitchers began the game well as neither team scored a run in the first three innings. After Nevada scored the first run of the game in the fourth, UC Irvine responded in the bottom half of the frame. Senior infielder Mitchell Holland started off the inning with a leadoff double, and after an error and a walk to load the bases, Holland scored on a squeeze play to tie the game.
In the fifth inning, sophomore outfielder Keston Hiura hit the first home run of the season for the ‘Eaters to left center field and his solo shot gave the ‘Eaters a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
Sophomore infielder Parker Coss added a two run single in the sixth for a 4-1 lead, providing some much needed insurance runs and the final margin of the game. Out of the bullpen, junior Sean Sparling provided two scoreless innings of relief for Surrey before handing the lead to Faucher.
In a ninth inning where Nevada was able to get the tying run to the plate, Faucher struck out the last batter to notch his first save of the year and give the ‘Eaters the first game in the weekend series.
Saturday’s game turned into a four and a half hour classic. Nevada started the game off with runs in each of the first three innings to take a 5-2 lead after the third. From the fourth inning to the sixth inning, UCI would get a runner in scoring position and fail to drive him home. The fifth and sixth innings were particularly frustrating as the ‘Eaters were able to load the bases in each of those frames, but still came away with no runs and UCI would eventually end the game with eighteen runners left on base.
“I’m thinking we’re going to lose a goddamn four hour game,” said coach Gillespie. “If we’re gonna play four hours, we got to win.”
Nevada would go on to score two runs in the eighth inning to stretch their lead to five runs, but two runs in the bottom half would keep the ‘Eaters close and only down three runs entering the ninth. With two outs and a runner on first, UCI began their rally. A single and a walk loaded the bases for redshirt senior Jonathan Muñoz, who singled to cut the deficit to two runs and keep the bases loaded. Sophomore Cole Kreuter came through in the clutch with a two run single to tie the game and send the game into extras.
“[My mindset] was to attack the fastball, get something in the middle of the plate and look to drive it,” Kreuter said. “I got my pitch and was able to put some good barrel on it.”
Junior pitcher Ben Ritchey mowed down the three Wolf Pack hitters he faced in the top of the tenth, and UCI was able to get a runner in scoring position immediately. A couple walks later and with two outs, junior catcher Alex Guenette approached the plate to pinch hit with the bases loaded and launched the first pitch he saw up the middle to win the game 8-7, and complete the comeback.
“We always preach be ready to go. You never know when it’s your time to go,” Guenette said. “Definitely the biggest hit of my collegiate career.”
On Sunday, the ‘Eaters were led by a strong pitching performance from sophomore starting pitcher Shaun Vetrovec, who pitched seven scoreless innings on only three hits to go along with six strikeouts. In his two starts this year, Vetrovec has pitched fourteen scoreless innings for UCI.
“Confidence has been huge for me this year. Last year I was a freshman. I was young,” Vetrovec said. “This year, I’m coming out confident and just attacking hitters in the strike zone.”
Vetrovec had a little trouble in the first when Nevada put two runners on with only one out, but an unassisted double play from first baseman Mitchell Holland got the ‘Eaters out of the inning. The Wolf Pack only had one other runner past first the rest of the game.
Catcher Alex Guenette opened the scoring in the second with a two run double down the right field line, continuing his success at the plate from the night before. An inning later, Hiura hit a two run homer over the wall in dead center for his second homerun of the series and a four run lead. Hiura would add a sacrifice fly in the fifth for his third RBI of the day and his fifth of the series.
“When runners are in scoring position, it’s time to take charge and step up. Luckily the ball was able to fall in my direction,” said Hiura.
The ‘Eaters added another run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly from Parker Coss to extend their score their sixth and final run of the game. Sean Sparling came in for Vetrovec in the eighth and pitched a scoreless inning of relief before Calvin Faucher entered in the ninth and preserved the shutout and the victory.
UCI returns to action on Tuesday with a road game at Loyola Marymount and return to Anteater Ballpark for a three game series against University of Texas-San Antonio on Friday.