All good things must come to an end.
For the 2008 UC Davis baseball team, it was a very good thing.
After finishing the regular season tied for the third-best overall record in the Big West Conference at 34-22, the Aggies were granted an at-large bid to the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament and began their postseason at Sunken Diamond in Stanford.
UC Davis (35-24) made some immediate noise in the Stanford Regional against its hosts this past weekend, but then suffered two losses in the double-elimination tournament to close the door on its impressive season.
“I’m extremely proud of the way they competed this year,” said head coach Rex Peters. “Our program turned a corner in a lot of ways.“
Friday – UC Davis 4, Stanford 2
Eddie Gamboa had 112 reasons to take off his glove and call it a day.
But he had three bigger reasons to get back out on the mound – the final outs of the game.
The senior Aggies ace induced a double play and swinging strikeout on his 127th pitch to cap off a four-hit, complete game performance that led UC Davis over Stanford in a 4-2 upset win.
“[My arm] feels great – I could’ve kept going,” Gamboa said. “Unfortunately, you can only go nine innings. But it was good – we got the win.“
The victory was the Aggies‘ third over the Cardinal this season and fifth in three years.
“It’s our only (Division I) postseason win, so it has to be the best,” Peters said.
The Aggies trailed 2-0 going into the seventh inning due in large part to an excellent performance from Cardinal ace Erik Davis through six innings. The senior allowed just two singles up until that point while striking out five.
“Erik Davis was on a roll there early on, and we weren’t seeing his changeup well,” Peters said. “We made some adjustments by moving up in the box and tried to get him to elevate some of his pitches.“
Davis did just that, allowing the Aggies‘ late-inning rally magic to make its postseason debut.
The Cardinal loaded the bases with an intentional walk to set up a double play, only to be greeted by a two-run double from Evan Hudson that put the Aggies ahead, 3-2.
“I was just looking for something he left up,“ the senior first baseman said. “He tried to sneak a fastball inside and I turned on it.“
“I won the battle through the first six innings,“ Davis said, “but they won it in that one inning.“
Senior Aggies shortstop Matt Dempsey completed the rally with a successful suicide squeeze that plated the final run of the game.
“All year long, it seems like we don’t do anything until the seventh, eighth or ninth,” Hudson said. “We just kept battling, put some quality at-bats together and scored a couple runs.“
Saturday – Pepperdine 7, UC Davis 4
Sixteen different times, an Aggie batter stood at the plate with a chance to get one step closer each time to a commanding two-game regional lead.
In the end, three steps weren’t nearly enough.
UC Davis hit just 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and gave up five late-inning runs to fall to Pepperdine, 7-4, and put themselves on the brink of elimination.
“Both teams played fairly well, but they obviously got a few more quality at-bats with guys on base – that was the difference,” Peters said. “They had one more crooked number in the crunch-time innings and we didn’t.“
For the second straight day, the Aggies went into the seventh inning tied 2-2. This time, they were the ones victimized by the late inning rally.
The Waves knocked junior Aggies right-hander Brad McAtee out of the game with two go-ahead RBI singles in the seventh before adding three insurance runs off sophomore reliever Andy Suiter.
“We had struggled in some offensive situations, but we came through late,” said Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, UC Davis stranded a total of 12 runners on base and struck out 11 times at the plate, the most since whiffing 12 times in a shutout loss to Fresno State back on Feb. 23.
Junior Waves right-hander Brett Hunter, who was making his first start since sustaining a sore arm injury in late February, struck out five Aggies and allowed just one run over four innings.
“Their pitchers have good stuff – Hunter has some of the best on the West Coast,” Peters said. “We were a little over-anxious early on in chasing some of his pitches outside of the zone. That put us in too many two-strike counts.“
With its win over Arkansas in Saturday’s matinee game, Stanford staved off elimination and set up an Aggies-Cardinal rematch for Sunday.
Sunday – Stanford 8, UC Davis 4
They were so close they could almost taste it.
After squeezing out the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth, the Aggies were just three outs away from finishing a four-game season sweep of the Cardinal.
Unfortunately, their regional hosts saved their best for last.
Stanford sent all nine batters to the plate and scored five runs to erase a 4-3 deficit and claim an 8-4 victory that eliminated UC Davis from the regional tournament, ending its 2008 season.
“We had the game where we wanted it, but we went into the ninth and just didn’t pitch,” Peters said.
Junior Cardinal catcher Jason Castro immediately put junior Aggies closer Justin Fitzgerald in the stretch, reaching on a fielding error at first base.
Then, the wheels came off.
On Fitzgerald’s 1-0 offering, junior Stanford first baseman Brent Milleville blasted his 10th home run of the year to put the Cardinal ahead, 5-4.
“I fell behind and then came in with a fastball to even the count up, but he put a good swing on it and took it over the fence,” said Fitzgerald, who hadn’t lost a game since Mar. 6 against Portland. “I challenged him because that’s what I do, so I just tip my hat to him.“
Milleville’s teammates kept things rolling with four more runs on four hits to dig the Aggies a hole they couldn’t escape. UC Davis had been 29-1 when leading going into the ninth inning.
“They put a big number on us – that’s asking for quite a bit to overcome,” Peters said. “We had some opportunities to break some games open with big innings like Stanford did, and we never did that this weekend.“
The Aggies‘ four-spot in the seventh inning of Friday’s game was the only time UC Davis scored more than two runs in a frame the entire weekend.
“Everything we’re going to remember is how far we got and how we battled throughout the season,” said junior catcher Jake Jefferies. “I’m really proud of my teammates. We had so many one-run ballgames that we won and ones that we came from behind to win.
“I’m just really proud to be a part of it.“
RAY LIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.