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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

See-saw series of one-run games goes to UC Riverside

Given their dismal 6-21 non-conference record, it would be easy to write off any series against the Highlanders as an easy win.

This past weekend at the Riverside Sports Complex, the Aggies (30-19, 10-8) learned that UC Riverside (18-27, 12-6) sat second in the Big West Conference for good reason.

The two teams battled in three one-run games, of which the Highlanders took two thanks to errorless defense and superb command on the mound for their fifth-straight conference series victory.

“We knew that they were playing their best baseball of the year and that it would be a formidable task to take a series at their place,” said head coach Rex Peters. “These were three games that could’ve gone either way, but they played flawless baseball all weekend.”


Friday – UC Riverside 7, UC Davis 6

In a game that saw five different lead changes, the Highlanders found a way to finally tip the scales in their favor.

UC Riverside struck for five runs in the final three innings off senior right-hander Eddie Gamboa and sophomore reliever Andy Suiter to take the first game of the series, 7-6.

The Highlanders got a first-inning run off Gamboa to start the game, but the Aggies came back with three in the fourth inning that came on doubles by junior outfielder Ryan Scoma and sophomore outfielder Kyle Mihaylo.

In the seventh inning, UC Riverside regained the lead thanks to a two-run double by junior outfielder Carl Uhl that was set up by a fielding error by freshman Aggie shortstop Scott Heylman.

“We made one mistake defensively that cost us a run,” Peters said. “We just made more mistakes than them in that game. In close games, you can’t make mistakes and they didn’t make any.”

Gamboa went 6 2/3 innings in the game, allowing four runs – two earned – but didn’t factor into the decision.

“Eddie pitched well enough for us to win,” Peters said. “And when you score six runs, you should be able to win a few games, but they just weren’t opening the doors for any big innings.”


Saturday – UC Davis 6, UC Riverside 5

After seeing their streak of eight straight victories in one-run games come to an end, the Aggies gave the Highlanders a taste of their own medicine.

Junior right-hander Brad McAtee pitched eight innings of three-run ball as Mihaylo went 3-for-4 with 2 RBI to help UC Davis even up the series with a 6-5 win.

UC Riverside led 2-1 after three innings, but the Aggies tallied eight hits off freshman right-hander Matt Larkins over the next two frames to take the 6-2 advantage.

“Brad gave us a really good start,” Peters said. “We got ourselves a lead and held on to it.”

The Highlanders didn’t go down without a fight, however, scoring three runs in the final two innings before senior Aggie closer Justin Fitzgerald buckled down to earn his school-record 11th save of the season.

“When you’re going up against a team that is playing such good defense and not walking anybody, you really have to earn your runs,” Peters said. “We were able to get some, hold on and get a victory.”


Sunday – UC Riverside 7, UC Davis 6

After two closely contested games, it was only appropriate that the series would be decided on Sunday by a single play.

In the end, a hanging changeup changed everything.

Senior Highlander first baseman Aaron Wible launched a walk-off solo home run off senior reliever Jeremy McChesney to break a ninth inning tie and take the rubber match of the series with another 7-6 win.

McChesney had thrown 2 1/3 hitless innings before the two-out, series-ending hit from Wible, who pushed his season home run total to seven.

“Jeremy pitched well – 2 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball is pretty much all you can ask for,” Peters said. “But he made one mistake on the changeup and the guy hit it well.”

Junior catcher Jake Jefferies led the UC Davis offense with a 2-for-2, 3-RBI performance that included his fourth home run of the season, which came in solo fashion in the seventh.

While the Aggies compiled 37 hits in the series, they also committed six errors while the Highlanders had zero miscues.

“When you play good opponents, you’re going to be in close games and you have to play good defense,” Peters said. “We pitched and hit fairly well, but the difference in the series is that they didn’t make any errors or mistakes that hurt them, and we did.”

The series loss was the third in UC Davis’ last four. The Aggies will regroup to host No. 13 California at Dobbins Stadium today with first pitch scheduled for 2:30 p.m.


RAY LIN can be reached at sports@californiaaggie.com.


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