Anteater sophomore Andre Pallante’s pitching mastery and hot bats gave UCI baseball a 12 – 2 victory over conference contenders UC Riverside Highlanders on Friday night.
Pallante commanded the mound Friday night, using his humming 90 mph fastball and snapping curve ball to record 7 strikeouts and allow 2 runs on 7 hits in 6 innings of work. Leaving the game, Pallante’s 1.43 era was the best in the Big West conference, and fourth in the NCAA. In addition, Pallante was selected to play for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, which will play the Cuban, Japanese and Chinese Taipei national teams this summer.
“It’s a huge honor to play for that team,” Pallante said. “I grew up with so many people who have played with that team, and I always considered myself just shy of being good enough for it. I’m just so grateful I got the opportunity to play for them now.”
At the plate, the Anteaters began cracking UCR’s pitching staff early. In the first inning, redshirt sophomore Konnor Zickefoose’s single up the middle drove in senior Parker Cross and freshman Jake Palmer, and gave UCI a 2 – 0 lead.
In the second, sophomore Christian Koss’s hard line drive single to center drove in junior Matt Reitano to give UCI a 3 – 0 lead.
The third inning was when the Anteaters broke the lead wide open. Zickefoose started the inning by knocking a single off the end of his batt into left field.
Then, after a walk from senior Ryan Fitzpatrick and a Cross sacrifice bunt, freshman Brendan Brooks crushed a three run home run deep above the left field fence. Now leading 6 – 0, and with the bases loaded Anteaters on base, senior Cole Kreuter knocked a three run double into left to give UCI a 9 – 0 lead in the third.
The relentless Anteaters drove three more runs off a Griffin Mazur RBI single in the sixth, a Zickefoose RBI double to right in the seventh, and another RBI single in the eighth.
Friday’s win was also a nice send off to UCI’s legendary manager, Mike “Skip” Gillespie, who will retire after 31 seasons coaching Division 1 NCAA baseball.
The ‘Eaters will return to their home Cicerone Field again on Saturday and Sunday for the final home matches of the season at UCI.
Trouble at the plate, and hot UCR bats caused the Anteaters to lose 7 – 1 against the Highlanders on Saturday. The Anteater’s managed just two hits, one by Kreuter and another by graduate Nick Anderson, in Saturday’s loss.
UCI freshman Trent Denholm gets the loss on the mound, as UCR redshirt sophomore Trenton Toplikar gets the win. Denholm, 4 – 7 on the season, will have to shake off the loss if the Anteaters are to make it to the playoffs this season.
With the final four games of the ‘Eater’s season to be played next weekend on the road at UC Davis, UCI will have to either play consistent baseball, or kiss their playoff hopes goodbye for 2018.
Currently, CSUF sits atop the Big West with a 15 – 5 conference record. CSU Northridge follows with a 13 – 10 record, and UCI follows in the third spot (tied with Cal Poly SLO, CSULB, and Hawaii) at 11 – 9. If UCI were to overtake the Titans as the no. 1 seed in the Big West, Fullerton would have to lose four out of five upcoming games, and UCI would have to go undefeated in their last four. It’s a tall order, but stranger things have happened this year in UCI athletics.
If UCI surmounts this, they’ll be playing with house money at the NCAA championship tournament in Omaha Nebraska this summer.
The other way the Anteaters could make the playoffs would be through an at large bid. 31 of 64 teams will automatically be selected to Omaha this season by winning their division, while the rest will be selected off at large bids. Currently, UCI is standing at a long shot with little respect by other teams across the country, but if the bats stay hot and the mound locks opponents down, the team has a shot for their first playoff since 2014.