The UCI men’s baseball team (9-5) quickly made a very loud statement against college baseball’s best, as the No. 1 ranked TCU Horned Frogs made the trip to Irvine to take on the ‘Eaters. UCI rose to the occasion, rocking TCU pitchers early and shutting down their bats as they took the first two games 11-2, and 6-3. The Horned Frogs finally got going in the third game, winning 16-7, but it was too late as the home team was able to take the series.
The ‘Eaters looked like the number 1 team in the country after hanging eight runs on the visiting Horned Frogs in the first inning, sending the visitors into a shock from which they never recovered.
UCI took the series opener 11-2 on Friday at Anteater Ballpark, in a game where every ‘Eater starter registered a hit and a run scored.
With the bases loaded and one out in the first, UCI tallied six consecutive hits, including a three-run triple by freshman Christian Koss. The inning ended after seven singles including two from senior Evan Cassolato, a double by junior Keston Hiura, and Koss’ triple for a total of nine hits and eight runs.
Junior Louis Raymond got the start for the home team and shredded the Horned Frogs for a second consecutive quality start, going 6.2 innings and giving up two runs on only three hits. Senior Sean Sparling pitched a perfect final 2.1 innings to cap off a stellar pitching performance by the ‘Eaters.
Junior Jake Hazard continues to capitalize on his starting spot, adding an RBI double in the fifth, and Hiura blasted his fifth home run of the year, a solo shot in the sixth as UCI rolled to the 11-2 victory.
The first-inning output was the highest since 2007, and the victory over a top-seeded team was the ‘Eaters’ first since beating Virginia in 2011.
The first-inning heroics continued for UCI in the Saturday afternoon game, this time plating four runs in the bottom half to vault the ‘Eaters ahead for the second game in a row, and bolstering the statement they made in the previous contest.
The 2007 ‘Eater squad that reached the College World Series was in attendance and was honored in a pregame ceremony before watching the current ‘Eater squad prevail 6-3 over TCU.
Junior Cole Kreuter was moved to the second slot in the order and immediately validated the decision by crushing a two run blast after Cassolato drew a leadoff walk. Freshman Adrian Damla and Hazard contributed RBI doubles to complete the 4-0 lead after one.
Freshman Cole Spear, who had a chance to show his mettle against the vaunted TCU lineup, showed remarkable poise and pitched 5.1 solid innings giving up two runs and striking out four.
“I’m excited about this guy Spear,” said head coach Mike Gillespie, “There’s real good college pitching in there. It’s not 94 (mph) that we see the big shots throwing, but it’s firm. He’ll touch the famous 90, and it’s an exceptional breaking ball and he did well with the change up today.”
The Horned Frogs would not go away quietly, and scored one run in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings to claw back to 4-3, but squandered multiple chances to break open an inning due to clutch pitching and defense from UCI.
Spear worked his way out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam, giving up only one run in the ordeal and preserving the ‘Eater lead. The defense did its part as well, executing a force out at home plate followed by a double play to end the inning.
“I’m particularly proud of the defense with the fact that we’ve had to bounce guys around,” said Gillespie, “We’ve had a couple injuries where it’s just changed things.”
After their first-inning outburst, the ‘Eater bats were quieted by TCU freshman Nick Lodolo who retired 14 straight hitters, but were able to add two insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Junior Ryan Fitzpatrick had a pinch hit sacrifice fly, before Hiura came up with a two-out double to score Cassolato and extend the lead to 6-3.
Freshman Andre Pallante and senior Calvin Faucher came in to pitch the final three innings, holding the rallying Horned Frogs scoreless and gave up no hits. Faucher tallied his sixth save of the year as the ‘Eaters clinched the series win over the #1 Horned Frogs.
The ‘Eaters finally fell back to Earth on Sunday, and with the series in hand dropped the third game to the Horned Frogs 16-7, putting an end to UCI’s six-game winning streak.
UCI actually continued its first-inning scoring trend, taking a 2-1 lead after one and ended up outscoring their opponent 14-1 in the first frame over the three games.
TCU would storm back to take a 3-2 lead in the third, and score six runs in the fourth followed by a five-run outing in the fifth to put the game way out of reach at 14-2.
Junior Chris Vargas made a serviceable start for the ‘Eaters, but only pitched for 2.1 innings giving up one earned run on three hits. Junior Michael Martin, sophomore Miles Glazier, and freshman Matt Marini struggled in the middle innings, combining for two innings pitched and allowing eleven total runs.
Freshman Kaz Akamatsu was able to temper the Horned Frogs outburst, going three innings and let three more runs across. Freshman Ryan Johnston was able to have some success on the mound, pitching the final 1.2 scoreless innings.
The ‘Eaters were able to get four runs back in the seventh and one back in the eighth to produce the 16-7 final tally. Damla was the only UCI player to register a multi-hit game, knocking two base hits and recording an RBI, while senior Adam Alcantara and junior Devin Pettengill were both credited with two RBIs.
UCI drops to 9-5 after the loss, but have won six of their last seven and look to continue playing solid baseball as they hit the road for a game at USC followed by a series at Seattle.