The UC Irvine baseball team (20-32, 7-14) left Hawai’i last week with their first Big West series win, effectively removing the monkey that has been on their collective back all through conference play. The ‘Eaters aimed to parlay that success into another series win this past weekend at UC Riverside (21-29, 7-14), but could not contain the Highlanders as the final two games of the weekend went Riverside’s way. After taking the opener 12-4, UCI dropped Saturday’s game 9-3 and Sunday’s contest 12-2.
The UCI offensive attack began in the first inning and never let up in the opener at Riverside, as the bats slung together 12 runs on 19 hits in the contest — headlined by senior Evan Cassolato’s two home runs.
Junior starter Louis Raymond gave a stout performance on the mound, collecting his ninth quality start of the year and his fourth start of seven innings or more, allowing nine hits and two earned runs over seven innings of work.
The 12-run output has not been seen by the ‘Eaters since an April 30th matchup at Fullerton, and is reminiscent of the firepower that fueled UCI’s hot and promising start to the season.
Three straight RBI-singles in the first inning, including two bloopers, gave the ‘Eaters the early 3-0 advantage. Cassolato extended the lead to 4-0 after his first home run of the day, a one-out blast over the right-center field fence.
Riverside was able to get one back in the bottom of the second, but UCI stormed out in the fourth after a flurry of extra-base hits. Cassolato homered again this time with a runner on, bringing his RBI total to three, and marking the first multi-homer game for an ‘Eater since junior Ryan Fitzpatrick’s outing at Fullerton on April 30. Three batters later, senior Adam Alcantara ripped a double down the left field line to bring home two more and effectively chase the Highlanders’ starter from the game. Junior Ryan Lillie lasted only 3.1 innings for Riverside in which he was tagged for seven earned runs off ten hits.
After a wild pitch allowed Riverside to make it 8-2, Alcantara connected on a two-out RBI-single in the sixth inning for his game-high fourth RBI.
The ‘Eaters loaded the bases in the seventh before senior Mikey Duarte singled home a run, and junior Keston Hiura registered an RBI after reaching on a fielder’s choice.
UCI tacked on one more run in the eighth on a sac fly from senior Alex Guenette, and junior Michael Martin and freshman Kaz Akamatsu teamed up to pitch the eighth and ninth inning for the ‘Eaters and preserve a 12-4 victory.
Led by Alcantara’s four and Cassolato’s three, seven different ‘Eaters notched an RBI and every starter knocked at least one base hit on the way to their first three-game win streak since early March.
The ‘Eaters win streak was snapped after Saturday’s game after giving up a couple big innings late to a hungry Riverside squad, eventually falling 9-3 to the Highlanders.
Facing a 1-0 deficit after Riverside pushed across a run in the first, UCI charged ahead thanks to a two-run blast from Fitzpatrick, his sixth of the year.
A double, error, and a walk loaded the bases for the Highlanders with no outs in the fourth inning, which was enough to send ‘Eater starter Jordan Bocko out of the game. Freshman Andre Pallante came on to work out the jam after giving up only one run which was charged to Bocko.
The UCI lead evaporated in the fifth as things started to unravel, as Pallante gave up a two-RBI double and an RBI-single that gave Riverside a 5-3 advantage that they would not relinquish.
After the fourth inning, the ‘Eaters could only muster one hit while the Highlander bats were just starting to heat up. Riverside added four more runs to their lead in an eighth inning that saw consecutive RBI-singles directly followed by a sac fly and an RBI-double, putting the game out of reach at 9-3.
Despite the offensive drop off from the previous game, Hiura was able to produce and reached base four times on the night with two walks, a single and a double. The two-bagger was the 50th of his career and puts him on the short list with former ‘Eater Jeff Cusick as the only UCI players to reach the benchmark. Cusick’s program-best of 52 is in jeopardy as Hiura has five more games to contest the record.
Riverside refused to let up after a first-inning onslaught and piled up 12 total runs to clinch the game and the series with the 12-2 final on Sunday.
‘Eater freshman Cole Spear started for UCI but only lasted one inning after giving up four runs off four hits and three walks in the frame.
Junior Chris Vargas came on in an attempt to cool off the Highlander bats, but fell short as well as Riverside tagged him for three runs in three innings and drew another three walks.
The ‘Eaters got on the board in the third thanks to an RBI-single from senior Mikey Duarte, and scored again in the fourth after Cole Kreuter singled in Fitzpatrick.
The two runs turned out to be the extent of UCI’s production, and was no match for Riverside who scored another four in the bottom of the sixth off the ‘Eater sophomore Miles Glazier to put the game out of reach.
Akamatsu took the mound for the final 2.1 innings and was able to keep the Highlanders at bay for the most part, allowing only one earned run on three hits.
UCI gets one more crack at conference competition next weekend, as they welcome in UC Davis for their Big West finale.