The UCI Anteaters won a slow yet nail-biting ballgame 2-1 in their second game series against the Rice University Owls last Saturday, Feb. 22 at Cicerone Field.
Both teams seemed to play the defensive game in the first three innings as they were able to get multiple strikeouts and catch easy pop flies. Juniors Jake Palmer and Mike Peabody successfully stole bases at the Owls’ expense.
“We kinda knew that this catcher had a little bit of trouble behind the plate, so we took advantage by getting guys on second, balls in the dirt and getting good reads off of balls in the dirt,” said senior pitcher John Vergara.
However, their efforts seemed fruitless as they did not appear to have the energy to capitalize off these opportunities.
At the top of the fourth inning, the ballgame started to pick up as UCI junior pitcher Peter Van Loon struck out the first two batters. The outfielder easily got the third out as he caught a fly ball.
The Anteaters broke the seal with the scoring drought at bottom of the fourth inning as senior Adam Damla hit deep to the right outfield; reaching second base. Immediately after, Peabody hit a ground ball and took first base while Damla strode to home base, taking the lead 1-0.
“Our energy was kind of low for the first beginning of the game, but I’d say when we first scored that first run, that’s when our energy started spiking up a little bit,” UCI junior pitcher Josh Ibarra said.
Unfortunately, Van Loon started the fifth inning with two walks, one by throwing four consecutive balls and another from a hit by pitch. The Anteaters caught a flyball in the outfield, but with runners on first and second, the team seemed sloppy as the catcher lost the ball and the runners were able to advance to second and third.
Ibarra subbed in for Von Loon in the middle of the fifth inning. The Owls tied up the score as they hit a ground ball up the middle towards second base. With a runner on first and third, Ibarra did not intend to give up another run as he struck out the last batter.
It was a back and forth game on the defensive end as both teams allowed no runs until the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Anteaters retook the lead 2-1 when junior Riley Kasper hit towards the center of the right field, clearing the way for a double. In the next play, Damla hit the ball down the middle — almost taking the head off the pitcher — and attained first. Kasper took his chance to run straight to home.
The game remained close as each teams’ defense kept runners on base at bay.
“We noticed they didn’t like the outside pitch too much so if we attack outside, we will be able to get them out,” Ibarra said about how UCI aimed for Rice’s batters’ weak points.
The game came down to the wire at the top of the ninth inning. Vergara subbed in as pitcher for Ibarra at the top of the eighth. He ended the close game with a clutch strikeout when first and third were occupied. Vergara threw a lightning fastball to end the night, 2-1, and left the park cheering.
“It was a big situation and I just had to make a big pitch. I pretty much wanted to throw my best pitch,” said Vergara.
The Anteaters finished the weekend, 3-0, against the Owls. They closed out the series with another win at Cicerone Field, Sunday, Feb. 23, 9-4.
Aviraj Gokool is a Sports Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.