The UC Irvine Baseball team (28-15, 20-7) swept both games of a Saturday doubleheader against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (30-15, 21-10) at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The Anteaters won game one by a score of 5-1, thanks to a five-run late-inning rally. Game two saw UCI redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Michael Frias put on a show in front of national television cameras with his complete-game two-hit shutout, leading his team to a 6-0 victory.
GAME 1: UCI 5 – UCSB 1 | W: Ibarra (2-2) L: Boone (8-3) | UCI HR: McCaffrey (1)
The first game was dominated by pitching. UCI freshman left-handed pitcher Nick Pinto (ND, 4-3) held the Gauchos scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning.
The inning started with UCSB redshirt sophomore left fielder Broc Mortensen lacing a double down the right-field line. Despite his teammate junior center fielder/second baseman Jason Willow hitting a single on the left side of the infield, Mortensen was thrown out during the play. After a pop-up to first base, senior second baseman McClain O’Connor smashed a two-out double down the line which allowed Willow to score the game’s first run. Pinto limited the damage by getting junior catcher Gianni Bloom to strikeout.
Pinto ended up striking out nine Gauchos throughout 6.1 innings on 109 pitches before he was replaced by junior right-handed pitcher Josh Ibarra (W, 2-2).
On the other side, UCSB sophomore left-handed pitcher Rodney Boone (L, 8-3) had his way against the Anteaters for most of the game until the top of the eighth inning.
Boone allowed only two hits when he faced UCI freshman catcher Thomas McCaffrey to start the inning. On a one-ball and no strike count, McCaffrey hit a game-tying solo home run.
Boone retired Irvine’s next batter but allowed a double down the line by freshman third baseman Connor McGuire. That marked the end of a strong outing by Boone that began to falter as he neared 100 pitches.
UCSB’s junior right-handed pitcher Conner Roberts came into the game and struck out junior shortstop Taishi Nakawake for the second out. Freshman left-handed pitcher Hayden Hattenbach relieved Roberts and hit junior designated hitter Jake Palmer with a pitch before walking redshirt freshman right fielder Nathan Church to load the bases.
UCSB went to the bullpen again and brought in sophomore right-handed pitcher Clayton Hall to face UCI junior center fielder Mike Peabody. On a no ball and one strike count, Peabody blasted a double to deep right centerfield, bringing in all three runners to put the Anteaters up 4-1. Junior first baseman Jacob Castro added an insurance run with his RBI single to left centerfield, scoring Peabody and putting the Anteaters up 5-1.
The two-out rally in the top of the eighth inning ended up being enough for the Anteaters as they took the first game, 5-1.
UCI head coach Ben Orloff said their success started on the mound.
“Pinto was huge. Their guy Boone has video game numbers, and it took a performance from Pinto and then Ibarra and King to win that game,” Orloff said. “Runs looked hard to come by, but Thomas [McCaffrey] hit the home run and jump-started us, we got a bunch of good at-bats in a row, but the ability to hang around and then have a big inning. So many games are won by the team that scores more in one inning than the opponent. We stuck around, got one of those big innings, and pitched it really good.”
GAME 2: UCI 6 – UCSB 0 | W: Frias (7-0) L: Lewis (4-3) | UCI HR: Peabody (6)
A strong pitching performance by the southpaw Frias set the tone for the Anteaters. On the offensive side, Palmer and Church had multi-hit games to propel their team to a comfortable victory.
The game was scoreless heading into the top of the third inning. McGuire led off the inning by reaching first base on an error by Gaucho freshman shortstop Jordan Sprinkle. After a Nakawake strike out, Palmer doubled to right field, advancing McGuire to third base. Church followed up with a single to load the bases with one out. Peabody grounded out to second base, which allowed McGuire to score, 1-0.
The Anteaters headed into the fifth inning maintaining a 1-0 lead. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Palmer was hit by a pitch, and came in to score then scored off of a Church triple, 2-0. Church leads the nation with eight triples this season.
The Anteaters increased their lead in the top of the seventh inning. Junior second baseman Justin Torres started off the inning with a single and then advanced to third on a McGuire single. With one out, Palmer hit a sacrifice fly to score Torres for the third run. Church got his third hit of the night with a single to advance McGuire to third base. Peabody capped off the scoring with a three-run homer to deep left field to put the Anteaters up 6-0.
With the Anteaters up 6-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Frias faced his biggest challenge of the game with two outs and runners on second base and third base. On his 119th pitch of the evening, Frias struck out UCSB redshirt sophomore first baseman Bryce Willits to complete the complete game shutout, 6-0.
“Frias continues to be magic,” Orloff said. “Multiple pitches for strikes, competitiveness, he wants the ball, nothing phases him, that’s as good as he’s been and it was special to see. On the offensive side, in series like this, you need your best players to step up and be really good, and I think that’s what we got in this game. Palmer doubles twice, Church gets a couple hits and scores a guy with a triple, Peabody with the three-run home run, that’s what UCSB did last night with Cummings and Sprinkle. But Frias was special, and our best guys were really good.”
The Anteaters finished their series with a win against UCSB on Sunday, May 9 by a score of 7-2.
James Huston is a staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.