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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Emotional ending

It was an up-and-down last weekend for the UC Davis baseball team, as it saw the careers of some key seniors come to an end.

While the Aggies were able to take the series from UC Irvine by winning on Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s disappointing defeat on senior day was one the Aggies would like to forget.

UC Davis finishes 27-30 overall, fifth in the Big West Conference at 12-12. The 27 wins are the highest win total for the Aggies since 2008 when they advanced to an NCAA Div. I regional.

Friday — UC Davis 4, UC Irvine 0

In his final collegiate start, senior Anthony Kupbens threw a complete game shutout, giving up just five hits, all singles. No Anteater runner ever passed second base during the game.

“It’s incredibly rewarding while incredibly sad, because that’s the last time we’re going to see him out there,” said head coach Matt Vaughn. “UC Irvine is one of the best teams in our conference and they didn’t have a chance against him.”

UC Davis got out on top of UC Irvine’s starter Andrew Thurman early, putting up four runs in the first three innings.

Freshman Tino Lipson lead off the first with a single, moved to second on David Popkins’ groundout, and then came around to score after a double from sophomore Nick Lynch. Junior Paul Politi followed with a double of his own to score Lynch and give the Aggies a 2-0 lead.

With one out in the third, Popkins was hit by a pitch, Lynch singled to left, and then Politi singled to right for an RBI that scored Popkins. With two outs, freshman Kevin Barker singled to right to score Lynch and give UC Davis a 4-0 advantage.

“There’s no one hotter coming in as a pitcher right now than Andrew Thurman,” Vaughn said. “I think it speaks to what we’ve done as a team all month. We’ve never stopped playing hard. We were able to get enough early and Kupbens made it stand up. It was a great effort offensively.”

Kupbens gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, got the next batter to fly out, and then induced a six-four-three double play to end the game.

“I don’t really know how to put it in to words,” Kubpens said of his last start as an Aggie. “Just a lot of pride; we’ve put it in a lot of hard work. These guys behind me are fantastic. They played a great game for me today, just a lot of pride in this team.”

Saturday — UC Davis 3, UC Irvine 1

For the third consecutive weekend, senior starter Tom Briner went the distance for UC Davis, throwing his fifth complete game of the year to lead the Aggies and claim the series against the Anteaters.

Briner struck out just one batter, did not allow a walk and surrendered just five hits in his final outing as an Aggie.

“I’m running out of superlatives for this pitching staff,” said Vaughn. “These guys are special. They’re setting the benchmark for what our guys have to be and what you have to do to be successful in this conference. All I’ve had to do is give them the ball. They’ve been incredible Aggies in this program from when they got here until their very last outing. It’s special. It’s very special.”

Offensively, UC Davis jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second. Senior Eric Johnson singled to short, advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt and later scored on senior Brett Morgan’s single up the middle. Senior Ryan Allgrove followed with a walk and Lipson singled to right to score Morgan.

In the fourth, Allgrove singled with one out and scored on Popkins’ double down the right field line to increase the lead to 3-0.

Popkins, Lynch and Barker were all hit by pitches to bring UC Davis’ record-breaking total to 100 on the season.

Sunday — UC Irvine 10, UC Davis 1

A very emotional Senior Day took a drastic turn when Johnson was injured when a UC Irvine runner collided with him in the first inning.

After a delay of nearly 30 minutes, Johnson was taken off the field on a stretcher, and the game resumed.

Senior catcher Scott Kalush capped his Aggie career with a solo home run in the third, but UC Irvine avoided the sweep to spoil the home finale.

The final game capped off the careers of Allgrove, Briner, Johnson, Kalush, Kupbens, Morgan, Popkins, Ryan Lucas and Dayne Quist, who were honored in a pregame ceremony.

“I love this team,” Vaughn said. “We finished with our second-highest win total since we’ve gone to Div. I. We set a goal at the end of April to win 26 games and we ended up winning 27, so we exceeded our internal goals for the last month. We won our last four series against very good opponents. This group of seniors took it upon themselves to make sure everyone else did the work and it’s special when you have a group of guys like that.”

Quist was given the loss in his final game as an Aggie to finish the season at 6-3 and fourth in the Big West in strikeouts with 85.

After the game, the seniors took pictures and received an ovation from the fans, including Johnson, who returned with a cast on his arm.

RUSSELL EISENMAN can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.


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