After putting forth a solid offensive display in the Tony Gwynn Classic, UCI baseball boasted two All-Tournament Team selections in senior Evan Cassolato and junior Keston Hiura despite dropping three of four games due to pitching woes against high quality opponents. The ‘Eaters flipped the script and utilized some dominant pitching to get back on the right track as they took a weekend series against the visiting Portland Pilots.
The ‘Eaters’ normally scorching bats took a break in the series opener, and instead utilized a small ball approach and stout pitching and defense to squeak out a 3-1 victory over the Pilots. Both teams were surprisingly ineffective at the bat and combined for only one hit in 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Junior right-hander Louis Raymond rebounded off a rough outing at San Diego to coast through six innings on the mound for UCI, allowing only five hits and one unearned run while striking out four.
Cassolato continued his hot streak with a leadoff triple in the first inning, and would score after Hiura grounded out later in the inning giving UCI the early lead.
The bats stayed until the top of the fourth, when Portland struck back and capitalized on an ‘Eater fielding error and scored the runner on a sac fly.
Hiura answered in the fifth with another RBI, bombing a sac fly to center deep enough to score freshman Christian Koss from third.
Manager Mike Gillespie flashed the baseball acumen in the sixth inning to manufacture an insurance run, pulling the strings to put the ‘Eaters in a position to score. Freshman Adrian Damla drew a one-out walk, and junior utility man Devin Pettengill came through with a pinch hit single. Following a double steal, Gillespie put faith in freshman Koss and called for the suicide squeeze with two strikes, which paid off as Koss laid down a textbook bunt to plate Damla and extend the lead to 3-1.
Sophomore Jordan Bocko and senior Calvin Faucher tag-teamed the relief duties to slam the door on the Pilots, as UCI recorded eight of their last nine outs via strikeout, with Bocko recording five in two innings pitched and Faucher whiffed three in the ninth.
Gillespie was quick to recognize the importance of the way the pitching staff stepped up and the different ways his team can win.
“I’m real happy with the way we pitched; I think all three guys did a real good job. We had just enough hitting and the squeeze was a miracle.”
After falling behind early in game two, a late surge propelled the ‘Eaters to a 6-3 comeback win to clinch the series over Portland.
Cassolato, normally a table setter for the big bats later in the lineup, experienced a role reversal and came through with two-out, two-RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to spark UCI’s resurgence.
“I’m always impressed with two out base hits that score runs, and two strike base hits that score runs, and we got some of that, certainly that’s what Cassolato did,” remarked Gillespie.
Senior Mikey Duarte co-headlined the offense with Cassolato, each with three hits, and was one of five ‘Eaters to record an RBI in the contest.
Portland opened the scoring and took a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a two-RBI single by Pilot junior Ryan Hoogerwerf, and added another run in the fourth to make it 3-0.
In the bottom of the frame, Portland starter Corbin Powers retired the first two ‘Eaters before Koss singled and junior Ryan Fitzpatrick drew a pinch-hit walk. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch as Cassolato made Powers pay with the clutch hit to vault UCI back in the game.
“I’m just trying to stay loose, stay confident, not guess and be ready for any pitch,” said Cassolato, “Just kind of go with it. It’s a little bit different than being in the leadoff spot and getting things going, but with runners in scoring position I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”
UCI took hold of the game in the bottom of the sixth, scoring three runs on RBI hits from senior Ale Guennette, Duarte, and senior Adam Alcantara, and added an insurance run in the eighth off a sac fly from Koss to produce the 6-3 final.
Senior starter Sean Sparling was relieved in the fifth inning after giving up three earned runs, and freshmen Ryan Johnston and Andre Pallante combined for five scoreless innings of relief.
Although Hiura completed only his second game of the year without an RBI, he continues to belt hits at an incredible pace and still boasts a slugging percentage over 1.000 through nine games and is second on the team in batting average at .455.
Cassolato currently leads the squad in that department with a .469 average and has defied all expectations thus far this year.
“Good for him,” said Gillespie, “It’s his fifth year. He’s played some, but he’s sat a lot. He’s one of those guys that could have quit every year and he didn’t. In my view this is something good happening to a good guy that deserves it.”
The ‘Eaters move above .500 at 5-4 on the year, and round out the series with Portland on Sunday before taking on Loyola Marymount on Tuesday. UCI will host the Korean major league team NC Dinos for an exhibition match on Wednesday, a tune-up for the weekend series against the visiting #1 ranked TCU Horned Frogs.