IRVINE – It says a lot about the make-up of the UC Irvine baseball team that they knocked off an early five-run deficit like an annoying mosquito on Friday afternoon.
After five runs behind Long Beach State before the third inning was over, the anteaters scored five runs with six hits at the end of the third to tie the result, then added three in the fifth and four in the seventh to make a 12 -5 to score victory in the Big West Conference at Cicerone Field.
Nathan Church, the Redshirt freshman from El Toro High, had a big doubles in the third and a triple doubles in the seventh. Connor Maguire scored and junior ace Trenton Denholm settled in Long Beach after the rally for the win.
“I like this team,” said UCI coach Ben Orloff afterwards. “You believe very much in yourself and are resilient. This isn’t the first time we’ve jumped back in a game. “
“The favorite part of this team is that it never stops grinding,” said Church. “We always play nine innings and we feel like we can come back from it all.”
The 20th-ranked anteaters improved to 25-12 overall and 17-4 in the Big West game as they stayed in the conference rankings and were in a solid position for a post-season appearance in the NCAA.
Orloff didn’t think about picking up Denholm after three innings.
“He didn’t throw many spots and you need more innings from your starters in a four-game series,” said the coach. “He’s a veteran and got better as the game went on.”
Denholm only allowed three hits in his last four innings, and two of them were infield singles. Gordon Ingebritson and Tanner Brooks each tossed a clean inning of relief.
Long Beach (12-12 overall, 10-11 Big West) dropped four runs on starter Denholm in the second inning. Third baseman Jonathan Long started with a home run to the left, his fifth of the season.
Jesse Lopez and Brennan Rozell doubles in the left corner and a UCI mistake added three more. The Dirtbags added a Connor Kokx single, a stolen base, a mistake and a Chris Jimenez double in the third run.
Jonathan Lavallee blew through two innings, but the anteaters knocked him around for six hits and five runs to finish the score 5-5.
McGuire started with a home run, his second of the season. The anteaters followed with five hits in a span of six thugs, which were balanced by Church (doubles), Luke Spillane, Dillon Tatum (doubles), Jacob Castro and Taishi Nakawake.
Lavallee’s pitch count was 81, so Dirtbag’s head coach Eric Valenzuela decided to end his day.
“He wasn’t on and that was a long inning,” said Valenzuela. “Denholm was probably a hit from the game, but was re-energized after the big inning and was really well placed.”
The Anteaters took the lead with a triple fifth, on a Spillane Bunt single, walk, two run doubles from Castro and single from McGuire.
UCI put the game down in the seventh with four runs, three of which were loaded on Church’s doubles with bases.
The two teams will continue their series on Saturday with a double header from noon. The series finale is Sunday at 1 p.m.