UCI 11 – Oregon State 9 F | W: Antone (1-0) L: Watkins (1-2) | UCI HR: Tatum 2 (11) OSU HR: Forrester (6), Casey (5)
The UC Irvine Baseball team (23-12, 16-4) scored six runs in the first inning but needed a walk-off two-run home run to beat the Pac-12 leading Oregon State Beavers (26-11, 10-5) by a score of 11-9 at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark on Saturday, April 24.
After falling in an 11-inning battle in their first meeting, the Anteaters came out swinging against the Beavers. Despite building a five-run lead in the first three frames, the Anteaters squandered it to set up an entertaining — almost controversial — ninth inning.
UCI head coach Ben Orloff sent out freshman left-handed pitcher Nick Pinto (ND, 4-2) to start the game on the mound. Pinto struggled to find command of his pitches, which the Beavers took advantage of to put up two runs on four hits in the first inning.
In the bottom half of the first inning, the Anteaters responded offensively. Facing freshman left-handed pitcher Cooper Hjerpe (ND, 2-3), the Anteaters needed to get runners on the basepaths to put pressure on the southpaw. Hjerpe started his day strong with a strikeout on a full count against the leadoff man junior designated hitter Jake Palmer. He only managed to retire another batter before the UCI bats wreaked havoc.
Back-to-back singles by redshirt freshman right fielder Nathan Church and junior center fielder Mike Peabody put runners on the corners. Hjerpe hit freshman left fielder Luke Spillane with an errant pitch to load up the bases, but followed that up by getting junior catcher Dillon Tatum to strike out swinging on three pitches.
Two outs and the bases full, junior first baseman Jacob Castro battled from a one ball and a two strike count to a full count and drew an RBI walk. Junior shortstop Taishi Nakawake drove in two runs with a single up the middle. Hjerpe was not able to record the third out of the inning as he was pulled from the game after walking freshman third baseman Connor McGuire to reload the bases.
Now facing freshman right-handed pitcher Jaren Hunter, UCI freshman second baseman Woody Hadeen singled in another run. Palmer, who struck out to begin the inning, came up with the bases still full and knocked in a couple of more runs with a single of his own, 6-2. All six runs were scored with two outs.
The Anteaters added three more runs in the next two innings. Tatum hit a towering solo home run over the left-center field wall against Hunter. Freshman right-handed pitcher Will Frisch relieved Hunter in the third inning; he gave up an RBI groundout to Palmer and a triple to Church, 9-4. Church leads all NCAA Division I players with seven triples this season.
The Beavers crept back into the game with their bats, while their pitching kept the Anteaters to just one hit until the ninth inning. Oregon State scored one run in the fifth inning via the long ball by redshirt junior left fielder Joe Casey off of UCI junior right-handed pitcher Josh Ibarra. Another pair of runs were added on the board in the sixth inning against junior right-handed pitcher Gordon Ingebritson, who came in when Ibarra had to leave due to injury. The score was now 9-7.
Junior right-handed pitcher Peter Van Loon, normally used as a starting pitcher, came out of the bullpen for the first time in his career. As expected from a starter, Van Loon dominated from the rubber and held the two-run lead until the eighth inning.
On a full-count, Van Loon hit freshman center fielder Micah McDowell with a pitch. Sophomore center fielder/right fielder Jacob Melton reached base on a catcher’s interference to bring up the go-ahead run to the plate with no outs. McDowell advanced on a sacrifice fly by junior second baseman Ryan Ober. The very next pitch was grounded out on the first base side by sophomore third baseman Jake Dukart and McDowell scored, 9-8.
Freshman designated hitter Garret Forrester, who had already homered earlier in the game, laced a single to left field to bring in the tying run, 9-9. Van Loon eventually got out of the inning with a strikeout, but the damage had already been done. The possibility of a comeback had to be credited to Frisch’s one hit ball and three strikeouts in 3.2 IP, which kept the Anteater offense at bay.
In the top of the ninth inning, the Beavers threatened to take the lead with a two-out rally against junior right-handed pitcher Tanner Brooks. The first two batters were retired with ease on just four pitches. Brooks gave up two consecutive walks and was ahead in the count with one ball and two strikes against Melton, yet he reached base on an infield single.
Redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Andre Antone came in to face Ober with the bases loaded and two outs. With just four pitches, Antone struck out Ober on an electric fastball that caught the outside corner of the strike zone just at the knees. Antone walked off the mound with an “ice in my veins” celebration while he pointed at his left forearm and his teammates swarmed him outside the dugout.
The Anteaters came up in the bottom of ninth with the heart of the lineup against the hard throwing sophomore left-handed pitcher Chase Watkins. Church struck out swinging and Peabody grounded out to shortstop for the first two outs. Spillane swung at the first pitch and hit a ground ball to the left side and beat out the throw from shortstop for an infield single. Spillane represented the winning run at the first base with Tatum at the dish.
Tatum took Watkins’s first pitch just out of the strike zone for ball one. Watkins checked the speedy Spillane with a throw to first base, ensuring that he did not try to steal second base. Tatum made contact and pulled the ball high and deep on the ensuing pitch — a slightly elevated fastball — over the left field foul pole in fair territory for a walk-off two-run home run, 11-9.
The Anteaters spilled out of the dugout and the bullpen to mob Tatum, who had just hit his second home run of the day, at home plate. However, the Beavers still remained on the field per the instruction from head coach Mitch Canham, who argued that the ball went foul. The umpires, who had called it a home run on the field, told Canham to stay in his dugout as the crew met near the first baseline. Since there was no video replay system, the umpires could only determine the outcome of that hit with what they had just seen on the field. Therefore, the home run call on the field stood and the Anteaters won.
Antone (W, 1-0), who just faced one batter, was the pitcher of record and notched his first career win. Watkins (L, 1-2) was handed the loss.
The two teams wrapped up their three-game series on Sunday, April 25 and the Anteaters took the rubber match on a walk-off base hit in the twelfth inning, 7-6. The Anteaters return to Big West Conference play at home against Long Beach State from April 30 to May 2. All games will be on ESPN3.
Christopher Piazza is a 2020-2021 Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.