By Jordan Medina
UC Irvine baseball (25-16, 7-8) played host to a highly anticipated weekend series against Cal State Fullerton (27-15, 9-3), matching the best pitching in the nation against the strongest offense in the Big West Conference.
Friday night’s series opener saw the ‘Eaters come out on top 2-0 in a tense, low-scoring affair as they won the first game of a conference series for the first time all season. Senior infielder Mitchell Holland opened up the scoring in the first inning with an RBI single to put the ‘Eaters up a run. In the top of the second, the Titans began the inning with a leadoff triple, but could not get any of their next three batters to bring him in, stranding the runner at third. The lead would remain at one until the fourth inning when junior Evan Cassolato knocked in another run with an RBI triple. Leading by two the rest of the way, the ‘Eaters lead was not threatened until the eighth inning, when a two out triple put a Titan runner on third, but a strikeout of the next batter ended the inning. The Titans would single with two outs in the ninth inning to bring the tying run to the plate, but a groundout would end the threat and the game.
Senior starting pitcher Elliot Surrey went the distance, throwing a complete game shutout with seven strikeouts while only allowing five hits.
“I think the biggest thing for myself was just to take every pitch one at a time and just really focus on that one pitch and not try to get ahead of myself,” Surrey said.
Saturday’s game would see the ‘Eaters fall to the Titans, 6-4, evening the series at a game apiece. Sophomore infielder Cole Kreuter would help the Anteaters jump out to an early lead again, as he led off the first with a double, and after advancing to third on a foul out, Kreuter would come home on a sacrifice fly to give the ‘Eaters a one run lead. The Titans would respond immediately with two runs in the top of the second to take the lead and would add two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to push the lead to five. UCI would cut the deficit to three in the bottom of the fifth when Kreuter hit a two RBI double, and would get another run in the sixth off an RBI single from senior infielder Jonathan Muñoz, to only trail by two runs heading into the final three innings. The Titans would threaten to extend their lead when they put runners on second and third with one out in the seventh, but freshman pitcher Jordan Bocko would strike out the next two batters to keep the ‘Eaters in the game. In the bottom of the ninth and the ‘Eaters still down two, UCI would get their first two batters on base and would load the bases with two outs, but their comeback attempt would fall short as their last batter struck out.
“We had a couple pitchers go in and restore some order and we finally made some adjustments at the plate and strung together some hits and made it interesting, and in the end, it was there to be won,” head coach Mike Gillespie said.
In Sunday’s rubber match, the Anteaters arms just couldn’t avoid the Fullerton bats as the Titans won 7-2 on fourteen hits and would win the series two games to one. The Titans would get on the board with a run in the first inning, and while UCI would get a runner to third in the bottom half of the frame, they were unable to bring him in. The Titans would then extend their lead with a five run third to push their advantage to six runs. The ‘Eaters would pick up a run in the fifth inning after an RBI single from junior outfielder Adam Alcantara, but Titans would respond with a run of their own in the next inning. Trailing by six runs in the bottom of the ninth, UCI would load the bases with one out and would score a run on a groundout, but Fullerton would retire the next batter to end the game and the series.
“For us, the next game is the most important game,” said coach Gillespie. “We are in a huge hole which is of our own making.”
UCI returns to action on May 3 with a game at UNLV before beginning a unique weekend series against UCLA on May 6 where the first and third games will be played in Los Angeles, while the second game will be played at Anteater Ballpark.