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Anteaters Score Big on a Victorious Saturday Afternoon Twin Bill Against the Tritons

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The UC Irvine Anteaters (19-9, 13-2) played the UC San Diego Tritons (7-16, 4-7) in a Big West doubleheader at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark on Saturday, April 10. The Anteaters took Game 1, 11-1, in a seven-inning run-rule affair. In Game 2, the Anteaters overcame an early deficit to beat the Tritons, 9-3. The stadium reopened at limited capacity, allowing fans to watch for the second time this season.

GAME 1 | UCI 11 – UCSD 1 F/7 | W: Pinto L: Conlon

UCI head coach Ben Orloff handed the ball to freshman left-handed pitcher Nick Pinto (4-1) to lead the Anteaters on the mound. The Orange County native southpaw has been a reliant pitcher coming into the game with a 3.52 ERA and 35 strikeouts for the season. Pinto faced off against fellow Orange County native and Triton senior right-handed pitcher Noah Conlon (1-2).

After a quick first inning, Pinto struggled to find command of his curveball as he loaded the bases with a walk and two hit batters. With the bases loaded and two outs, UCSD redshirt senior center fielder Brandon Stewart stepped up to the plate hoping to drive in the first runs of the game. Stewart got ahead in the count by taking three balls before looking at two consecutive strikes. However, to end the inning, all he did was ground out to the shortstop. 

A big key to the overall success of the Anteaters this season was their high potent offense. Half of the 12 Anteater Big West Conference victories saw UCI score in double digits. The crooked numbers on the scoreboard are attributed to UCI scoring five or more runs in a single inning. 

In this game, the Anteaters used a six-run second inning to jump out to a commanding lead. Junior designated hitter Jacob Castro led off the inning with a walk and advanced to second base after a single by senior first baseman Adrian Damla. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, redshirt sophomore second baseman Jake Cosgrove laid down a bunt and beat out the throw to first base for an infield single. Junior shortstop Taishi Nakawake came up to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a blooping single to center field driving in Castro for the first run. 

Conlon retired Irvine’s freshman third baseman Connor McGuire via the strikeout to bring up freshman catcher Thomas McCaffrey with the bases still loaded. During the at-bat, Conlon threw a wild pitch that got by redshirt senior catcher Aaron Kim, allowing Damla to score. Soon after, the right-handed McCaffrey hit a ball to the opposite field that fell just inside fair territory into the right-field corner for a two-run triple, 4-0. 

The second inning hit parade did not stop as redshirt freshman right fielder Nathan Church laced a single up the middle to center field to bring in McCaffrey. With this hit, Church increased his hitting streak to 16 games and earned his team-high 25th RBI. Junior center fielder Mike Peabody singled through the right side on the first pitch and Church advanced from first base to third base. 

With teammate freshman left fielder Luke Spillane at the plate, Peabody stole second, putting two runners in scoring position with one out. Spillane hit a towering fly ball to left field which was caught for the out, but Church tagged from third base and came home safely to increase the lead, 6-0.

With a runner still at second base, Castro came up to the plate for the second time in the inning and was hit by Conlon’s pitch. This marked the end of Conlon’s difficult day on the mound and was relieved by sophomore left-handed pitcher Chris Gilmartin, who struck out Damla to end the inning.

Irvine’s Pinto returned to the bump with a comfortable lead and retired the Tritons in order. The Tritons sent out Gilmartin for the bottom of the third and he got Cosgrove to fly out to right field. Nakawake walked and then advanced to third base on a McGuire single. On the first pitch he saw, McCaffrey laid down a squeeze bunt on the first base side. Gilmartin overthrew his first baseman, which allowed Nakawake to score easily from third base, 7-0. That was the only run that the Anteaters scored that inning. 

In the next two innings, Pinto settled in and only allowed a few hits and no runs. He was relieved by sophomore left-handed pitcher Troy Wentworth in the top of the sixth inning after allowing a one-out double on his 100th pitch of the day. The Tritons got on the board after an RBI single by redshirt senior third baseman Blake Baumgartner, 7-1.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Anteater bats came alive one more time. Castro was hit by another pitch ― his second time in the game ― by Triton sophomore right-handed pitcher Aren Alvarez. Damla followed up with his second hit of the game, this time a double down the left-field line putting two runners in scoring position and no outs. Cosgrove drove in Castro with a soft contact single to the left side, 8-1. After Nakawake popped out to second base, McGuire tripled to deep center field and scored Damla and Cosgrove who came all the way from first base, 10-1. 

With the game-winning run at third base, the Tritons brought in freshman left-hander Ryan Rissas to try to retire the next two Anteaters. Fortunately for Irvine, Rissas threw a wild pitch over his catcher and McGuire came in to score the final run, 11-1. 

The Anteaters won in a mercy rule. This means a game can finish early if a team is up by 10 or more runs after seven innings. Pinto earned his fourth win of the season in 5.1 innings, allowing just four hits, one earned run and notching three strikeouts, while Conlon picked up the loss in just 1.2 innings pitched. Pinto’s ERA dropped to 2.43 by the end of his outing. 

Cosgrove led all players with three hits, two runs, an RBI and a stolen base. McCaffrey drove in three RBIs, while McGuire had two. The bottom part of the lineup of Nakawake, McGuire and McCaffrey combined for six RBIs and four hits. 

GAME 2 | UCI 9 – UCSD 3 F | W: Stanford L: Quinby

Redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Michael Frias (4-0) took the mound for the Anteaters against freshman right-handed pitcher Nic Gregson (0-3). Frias looked to keep his unblemished record through the first half of the season with another start against the Tritons. Frias came in holding opposing hitters to a measly .193 batting average to go along with an impressive 1.95 ERA and team-high 42 strikeouts. 

The Anteater pitcher got off to a strong start in the first inning by retiring the top of the Triton lineup. In the second inning, he got into an unfamiliar situation as he walked a batter for the first time in over 20 innings. Not only did he give up that walk, but he also gave up a second consecutive base on balls with two outs. Undeterred, Frias got redshirt junior catcher Paul Gozzo to fly out to left-center field.  

On the other side, the young Triton pitcher threw against a hot Anteater lineup with confidence. Gregson pounded the strike zone with his fastball and got Anteaters to swing and miss at his slow-arcing off-speed pitches. 

Similar to the first game of the doubleheader as well as in their previous games, the Anteaters were productive and scored runs in the second inning. Junior catcher Dillon Tatum and Damla reached base on back-to-back singles with no outs. Cosgrove advanced the runners to second base and third base with his sacrifice bunt before McGuire picked up where he left off in Game 1 and drove in the runners with a base hit to center field. The Anteaters led 2-0 after two innings. 

With a lead, Frias seemed to settle in and struck out two Tritons and got one to line out to second for the easy one-two-three inning. In the bottom half of the third inning, Gregson responded with two quick outs before allowing two hitters to reach on base. With a full count, Gregson got Damla to swing and miss, striking him out to end the inning. 

As Gregson walked off the mound towards a lively Triton dugout, Frias returned to the mound determined to shut down the Triton bats. Ahead in the count one ball and two strikes, Frias threw an errant pitch at UCSD redshirt senior Jackson Kritsch and hit him on his left arm, giving the Tritons their leadoff man on base. Junior second baseman Michael Fuhrman connected on a Frias pitch right down the heart of the plate and sent it over the left-field wall for a game-tying two-run home run. The Triton dugout erupted as it was their first two runs in the series.   

The inning continued with another hit off of Frias. The Anteater pitcher walked junior first baseman Blake FitzGerald after retiring Baumgartner for the first out. With a batter out and runners on first and second base, Frias had the opportunity to force a double-play to end the inning. However, Frias threw a wild pitch with Gozzo at the plate and the runners advanced to second and third base. Gozzo grounded out to shortstop, but the run still came in and the Tritons took a 3-2 lead. 

It was an uncharacteristic start for Frias after being the most dominant and consistent pitcher on the Anteater staff. He finished with just four innings pitched and gave up three runs all earned, three hits and three walks. Frias’s ERA increased to 2.48 on the season. 

The Anteaters looked to retake the lead, but needed to go through a dealing Gregson. Fortunately, Gregson hit Cosgrove with a pitch and surrendered a two-out base hit to Church. The Anteater lead-off hitter increased his hit streak to 17 games. 

The Tritons made a call to the bullpen and brought in senior right-handed pitcher Luke Mattson. The Triton reliever shut down the Anteater bats with his strategic pitch location and selection, and went on a streak of retiring seven batters in a row.   

To start the fifth inning, junior right-handed pitcher Tanner Brooks took over for Frias. Brooks came out and hit his first batter faced before getting redshirt junior right fielder Tate Soderstrom to ground into a double play. With the bases cleared, Brooks struck out Kirsch on a slider to end the inning. Brooks went back out to pitch for the Anteaters in a scoreless sixth inning where he struck out two more batters.

He was replaced with one out in the top of the seventh inning by redshirt senior left-handed pitcher Dylan Riddle, who faced and retired the only batter he faced. The Anteaters made their second pitching change and brought in junior right-handed pitcher Michael Stanford. 

The second pitching change was prompted by UCSD head coach Eric Newman’s decision to pinch-hit for the left-handed batter Soderstrom with the right-handed freshman right fielder Brock Kleszcz. Understanding the Tritons’ move to get a statistical advantage against a left-handed pitcher, the Anteaters countered by bringing in the right-hander from the bullpen. The change paid off as Stanford struck out Kleszcz to end the top of the seventh inning. 

To the Anteaters’ pleasure, the effective Mattson was swapped out for redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Mark Quinby. The productive contact hitter McGuire made the most of his first at-bat against Quimby and dropped in a hit right inside the right-field line. Church followed up with a line drive into the right-centerfield gap. Peabody gave the Anteaters the lead with a double that sailed over the head of senior left fielder Anthony Lucchetti. McGuire and Church scored, 4-3. 

The Anteaters added two more runs in the inning. After a Castro sacrifice bunt, Tatum dropped in a bloop single into right field and Peabody came in to score. For the second time in the inning, the Anteaters put on a squeeze play where Damla laid a slow dribbling bunt right in between the pitcher and catcher. Spillane came in to score and the lead increased to 6-3.

In the bottom half of the eighth inning, the Anteaters added three more runs all with two outs. Spillane drove in two runners with a single and scored the final run on a Castro RBI single. Stanford returned to the mound and completed the top of the ninth to secure the 9-3 victory for UCI. 

With Frias and Gregson both taking a no-decision, Stanford is credited with the win after going 2.1 innings and Quinby with the loss as he surrendered the Triton lead. The Anteater bats continued to make noise on every occasion as they scored seven of their nine runs in the final two innings.        

The two teams wrapped up their four-game series at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark on Sunday, April 11. The Tritons took the last game 5-2. 

Christopher Piazza is a 2020-2021 Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at sports@newuniversity.org