The UC Irvine Men’s Baseball team (3-1) lost against the No. 8 UCLA Bruins (3-2) by a score of 4-3 on Feb. 26 at Jackie Robinson Stadium. This was the Anteaters’ first loss after winning their previous three games in non-conference action.
In their opening series, the Anteaters swept the University of Washington in Irvine at Anteater Ballpark. UCI headed to UCLA to face the Bruins for the first time since 2019 and play against their second of the scheduled four Pac-12 opponents.
UCLA sophomore pitcher Jared Karros started on the mound against UCI junior leadoff hitter and left fielder Jake Palmer and quickly got the Anteater to ground out to first base. UCI junior center fielder Mike Peabody singled on a full count and then advanced to second base on a throwing error. On a 2-2 pitch, UCI redshirt freshman right fielder Nathan Church reached base, which allowed Peabody to advance to third base. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Anteater senior clean-up hitter first baseman Adrian Damla laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to bring Peabody home. Although there were no fans in the stands, the Anteater dugout erupted and their celebrations echoed throughout the stadium as they took the early 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the first inning, UCI junior starting pitcher Trenton Denholm showed early command on the mound and retired the first three batters he faced. However, in the bottom of the second inning, UCLA sophomore designated hitter Josh Hahn drew the first walk of the evening. Hahn advanced to second base following a base hit by UCLA sophomore right fielder Michael Curialle. The Bruins tied up the ballgame, 1-1, with a single by redshirt senior left fielder Jarron Silva.
The Anteaters led off the top of the fourth inning with a walk from Church and a single by Damla. UCI junior designated hitter Riley Kasper advanced the runners to second and third base with a sacrifice bunt. With two outs and two runners in scoring position, UCI junior catcher Jacob Castro managed to hit a ball down the left field line beyond the outstretched glove of UCLA freshman third baseman Kyle Karros. Both Church and Damla scored to give the Anteaters a 3-1 lead.
UCI sophomore pitcher Troy Wentworth came in relief for Denholm in the top of the fourth inning. In his first appearance of the season, Wentworth efficiently got through the next three innings and allowed only one walk and no hits in 34 pitches. The Anteaters also relied on stellar defense in the infield that was capped by a smooth double play to end the sixth inning and to preserve the 2-run UCI lead.
After the seventh inning stretch, UCI freshman pitcher Jacob King replaced Wentworth on the mound. King got Curialle to strike out swinging but walked Silva on four straight pitches. With one out, UCLA junior second baseman Mikey Perez hit a fair ball down the right field line, which allowed Silva to get all the way to third base. With Kyle Karros at the plate, the Bruins successfully pulled off a double steal where Perez beat out the throw to second base and allowed Silva to score without being contested. Kyle Karros grounded out to second base, which was enough for Perez, the tying run, to reach third base. UCLA redshirt junior center fielder Kevin Kendall brought Perez home on an infield single, which tied the game at 3-3.
UCI threatened to regain the lead in the top of the eighth inning after a single and two hit-by-pitches loaded the bases. Despite having Castro with two runs batted in (RBIs) at bat, UCLA got him out on a line out to right field. This was the last opportune chance for UCI to win the game as they were retired in order in the top of the ninth inning.
UCI junior pitcher Josh Ibarra came into the game for the bottom of the ninth inning, hoping to extend the game to extra innings. UCI was able to get the first out with a groundout. However, on the second pitch of the at-bat, Perez laced a double down the left field line and represented the winning run. Kyle Karros followed up with a single, but Perez only made it to third base. The Anteaters decided to intentionally walk Kendall to load the bases. UCLA junior first baseman Jack Filby stood at home plate and watched four straight pitches land outside of the strike zone, which resulted in a walk that scored the winning run, 4-3.
Although the game went down to the final inning, UCI head coach Ben Orloff comments on how the team must improve for the future games to come in the post game interview.
“We’d like to start scoring some more runs,” Orloff said. “Until we start swinging the bats and getting through the lineup, we’re going to have to win 2-1 or 3-2. We’re not scoring enough to win any other way.”
Orloff noted that early season games are important to understanding how the rest of the year may play out.
“There will be a lot of close, low-scoring games, and when you’re in those, the margin for winning and losing is small,” Orloff said.
In the second game of their three-game series, the Anteaters beat the Bruins, 7-3, at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark in Irvine. In the rubber match, the Bruins blanked the Anteaters, 4-0, at Jackie Robinson Stadium. UCI (4-2) will face UC Riverside in a three-game non-conference series at the Riverside Sports Complex on Mar.5 to Mar.7.
Malia Nazario is a staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.