In a series the Aggies desperately needed to win in order to stay in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs, the big hit just never came.
No. 9 UC Irvine battled neck-and-neck with UC Davis this past weekend at Dobbins Stadium, and came out victorious to put the Aggies’ backs against the wall going into the final Big West Conference series of the year with Cal State Northridge.
“The kids played hard – we swung the bats hard, but we just couldn’t get the hit with runners on base,” said head coach Rex Peters. “I’m proud of them, they played hard. We lost two close ballgames.”
Friday – UC Davis 3, UC Irvine 1
Despite going into the game with the top offense in the Big West, the Aggies knew it would be tough to beat the conference’s top pitcher.
But they didn’t need to beat him.
Junior Anteaters right-hander Scott Gorgen held UC Davis to just one run over 6 2/3 innings, but the Aggies put up a pivotal two-spot in the eighth after his departure to claim the series-opener, 3-1.
“This is a huge win because that’s probably the best pitcher in the conference, if not one of the best in the country,” Peters said. “We knew we were going to be in for a fight offensively with Gorgen on the mound – he’s a bulldog.”
Gorgen, who could be the first Big West pitcher selected in next month’s MLB draft, retired 15 of the first 18 batters he faced before senior Aggies outfielder Ryan Royster drew a leadoff walk in the sixth.
Sophomore outfielder Kyle Mihaylo later delivered a sacrifice fly that brought Royster home and knotted things up at 1-1.
“He’s a great pitcher with a really good fastball and great off-speed pitches that he mixes in really well,” said senior first baseman Evan Hudson. “We just needed that one run to get him out of the game, and then we just battled hard.”
“I was happy to see him leave because they got some guys in there that we felt more comfortable against,” Peters said.
Sophomore Anteaters reliever Daniel Bibona replaced Gorgen in the seventh, stranding one runner to end the inning. He would not be as fortunate in the next frame, as he put the two go-ahead runs on-base before being removed for sophomore Christian Bergman.
The right-hander walked junior Aggies outfielder Ryan Scoma to load the bases for Hudson’s game-winning, two-run single.
“I was thinking after I got to the full count that he didn’t want to walk me, so I figured he’d come in with the fastball,” Hudson said. “He did, and I’m just glad I got the hit.”
Senior Aggies right-hander Eddie Gamboa matched Gorgen nearly pitch for pitch, allowing just an unearned run over 7 1/3 innings.
“We knew it was going to be a close ballgame,” Gamboa said. “It was a matter of who wanted it most. We did our job – played some defense, managed to win a couple pitches late in the innings and scored when we needed to get the W.”
Saturday – UC Irvine 4, UC Davis 3
Given three different golden opportunities with the bases loaded, the Aggies failed to bring home a single run.
The Anteaters, meanwhile, did it without even swinging the bat.
Junior UC Irvine outfielder Eric Deragisch scored on a steal attempt of home with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning to help the Anteaters slide by the Aggies, 4-3.
“I wasn’t surprised at all – it’s part of their game,” Peters said of the pivotal theft. “[UC Irvine head coach Mike] Gillespie has been doing that type of stuff for years. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they took a chance with two outs and a hitter at the plate.”
“I guess it was a good play in that situation,” said junior catcher Jake Jefferies. “We had him, and then he kicked the ball out of my glove. It was just a smart move for them to try and get that winning run across.
“You don’t see that very often, but you have to be heads up for anything.”
Due to food poisoning before the game, sophomore Anteaters right-hander Bryce Stowell was unable to pitch, forcing freshman right-hander Crosby Slaught to make an emergency start.
Slaught loaded the bases in the very first inning, but junior Aggies outfielder Ryan Scoma grounded into a double play to end the threat, a play that repeated in the fifth.
“We had him on the hook in the first inning,” Peters said. “We had a chance to put them on their heels, and we didn’t take advantage of it. [Slaught] got some confidence, got into a rhythm for a few innings and ended up giving them a good start.”
Slaught held the Aggies to one run over four innings while junior Aggies right-hander Brad McAtee countered with a solid start of his own, allowing four runs – two earned – over 7 1/3 frames.
“Brad did his job, and I was happy with the way we pitched today,” Peters said. “I’m just not happy with how our bats weren’t really good in scoring opportunities.”
The Aggies left six men on-base in their three bases-loaded situations and 11 men overall.
“If we had more quality at-bats with runners in scoring position, we would’ve won the ballgame,” Jefferies said.
Sunday – UC Irvine 5, UC Davis 3
Home plate umpire Rick Scarberry didn’t care that it was Senior Day or that it was possibly the most important game of the conference season for UC Davis.
After Ryan Royster struck out looking for the first Aggie out of the game, Scarberry ejected Royster for comments made on his way back to the dugout. When Peters charged out to defend his senior center fielder, Scarberry tossed him, as well.
“I definitely didn’t say anything inappropriate,” Royster said. “I had a question about the call, he answered it, and I made a comment about how we weren’t getting any close pitches in the top of the inning. But he’s the authority figure, and however he construes it is how it goes.”
“The umpire was not ready to umpire when he stepped onto the field,” Peters said. “I don’t think in a game of this magnitude where two teams are fighting to get into a regional (playoffs) that Royster deserved to be thrown out. There’s a fine line between winning and losing in the Big West, and one inning like that can bury you. And that’s exactly what he did to us.”
The Anteaters capitalized on their short-handed opponents, using an early lead and superb start from Bibona to defeat the Aggies, 5-3.
Despite getting out-hit by UC Davis for the third straight day, UC Irvine still managed to put up its highest run total of the series.
Junior Aggies right-hander Bryan Evans gave up six hits and four walks that resulted in four runs over six innings of work.
“Our pitchers pitched their butts off this weekend,” said pitching coach and interim head coach Matt Vaughn. “Bryan hung in there and gave us six quality innings to keep us in the game. He gave us a chance, but we just couldn’t get back in it.”
After leaving six runners on-base Saturday, Scoma came back Sunday with a 3-for-4 performance and two RBI.
“It’s tough – today was just a tough game,” Scoma said. “We played good baseball and out-hit them again, but just couldn’t get the runs in. We just lacked that one big hit.”
The Aggies will have a week off before traveling down to Northridge to close out the conference season against the Matadors.
RAY LIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.