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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Aggies honor seniors in final home game against UC Irvine Anteaters

Aggies lose on Senior Day, 2-9  

 

By PATRICK FIGUEROA — sports@theaggie.org

 

On Sunday afternoon, the UC Davis Aggies prepared for their final home game of the season against the UC Irvine Anteaters. Most teams consider the last home game of the season “Senior Day,” a day to bid a final farewell to all of the departing seniors on the team. This year, the Aggies honored catcher James Williams III and pitchers Nate Freeman and Nathan Peng. 

With the game slated to begin at 1 p.m., UC Davis began its ceremony at 12:50 p.m. Each player walked onto Phil Swimley Field for one last time with their loved ones by their sides to receive acknowledgement and cheers from both teams’ fans. UC Davis Athletics had even painted their numbers on the field behind home plate to honor each player. 

The Aggies then faced off against the Anteaters for the final game of their three-game series. They lost the prior two games 5-10 and 2-13, and unfortunately for the Aggies, the Anteaters completed the sweep, winning the third game 9-2

UC Davis’s starting pitcher was graduating senior Nate Freeman. Entering this game, Freeman had pitched in 165 innings for the Aggies, racking up 121 strikeouts. He was also a two-time Big West Conference All-Academic Team representative.

“He’s been a leader in the two years I’ve been here,” said UC Davis Head Coach Tommy Nicholson. “Just the way he goes about his business, [he’s] really good on the field [and] off the field. [He’s] a really hard worker [and] just a professional. [He’s] a model teammate, and I can’t say enough about his work ethic.”

In the top of the first inning, Freeman gave up a leadoff triple to Anteaters’ third-year infielder Jo Oyama. However, he maintained his composure on the mound, forcing the next batter to ground out to second base and then striking out one of the Big West’s best hitters, Anteaters’ first-year first baseman Anthony Martinez. With a runner on third base and two outs, Freeman got Anteaters’ second-year shortstop Dub Gleeb to hit a ground ball, but third-year third baseman Nick Iverson mishandled the ball, resulting in an error and a run. 

Freeman would pitch for two more innings, allowing two runs in the third inning. With two outs and runners on first and third bases in the third inning, Freeman got out of the jam with a strikeout against Anteaters’ second-year outfielder Myles Smith. 

Entering the bottom of the fourth inning, the Aggies were down 4-0. With two outs, UC Davis had runners on first and third base when Williams III came up to the plate. With one ball and one strike, he ripped a single right past a diving second baseman, driving in the first run for the Aggies. 

Williams III finished the day with an impressive three-hit performance. Since transferring from Santa Ana Community College, he has accumulated 76 hits, 48 RBI and two home runs in his two-year Aggie career. According to Nicholson, he has been a strong leader as one of the captains of the team this season. 

With two runners on base in the top of the sixth inning, Peng entered the game with one out. The Aggies were only down 4-2 after third-year outfielder Damian Stone drove in a run on a double in the prior inning. Alas, the Anteaters scored two runs in this inning, but neither would be accredited to Peng. 

Peng continued pitching in the top of the seventh inning. While he did give up a run, he also struck out two batters and stranded one runner on base after the final batter flew out to left field. Peng finished his day with 1.2 innings and two strikeouts. 

Before becoming a full-time pitcher for his final season, Peng was a two-way player for three seasons as an Aggie. He accumulated 76 innings, 68 strikeouts, 17 hits and one home run in his Aggie career. In addition, Peng was a two-time Big West Conference All-Academic Team representative. 

Coach Nicholson spoke about how Peng battled back from adversity this season when asked about him.
“In my mind, I wasn’t sure where he was at [mentally because] he struggled last year,” said Nicholson. “I was like ‘Gosh, is he going to be the same guy [this year]?’ Being a senior, he actually graduated after the winter quarter. In my mind, I was [wondering] if he is just coasting through his last year? To his credit, he worked his butt off and I think he has the second-[best] ERA on our team. He’s been one of our most valuable pitchers. It’s a testament to his character.” 

The Anteaters would add two runs in the final two innings, while the Aggies struggled to come back from behind. The game ended after Aggies’ second-year outfielder Mark Wolbert hit a hard ground ball that the Anteaters’ second baseman, redshirt second-year Will Bermudez, snagged on a diving grab before recording the final out at first base. The Anteaters improved their overall record to 35-17. 

In his press conference, Nicholson described how Williams III, Freeman and Peng have all been a part of changing the team culture. 

“Those guys are a big reason why our culture is trending in the right direction,” said Nicholson. “I think the culture of our team is guys that work hard; they play hard; they do the right thing off the field [and] they’re respectful. When we go on the road, we haven’t had any issues. We’ve got guys that do things the right way. They’re good on campus, and those three really have been a positive influence on their teammates and the whole team.” 

The Aggies have demonstrated significant improvement this year after only winning six games last season. UC Davis finished their season on the road against Long Beach State in a three-game series from May 25 to May 27 — the Aggies lost all three games and finished with a 17-37 overall record along with a 7-23 record in conference play. 

 

Written by: Patrick Figueroa — sports@theaggie.org