IRVINE – There wasn’t much tension ahead of UC Irvine’s Big West Conference baseball game against Cal State Fullerton on Friday, but the anteaters decided to cut down on everything that existed.
Needing a win during their final four-game series of the regular season, the Anteaters failed at Cicerone Field to claim a pivotal 10-4 win over the Titans for the Big West title and auto-start in 64th place. to pick-up team NCAA postseason that comes with it.
It’s the first regular season Big West title for UCI (37-16 overall, 29-8 Big West) since 2009, and leaves the Anteaters only concerned about where to play next rather than if they play when they do play bracket will be announced on Monday morning (9am, ESPN2). Even if UCI ends with the same conference mark as runner-up UC Santa Barbara (35-18, 25-11 before the game on Friday night), the Anteaters have already won the automatic spot by being the head-to-head tiebreaker own.
Just two seasons ago, UCI set a 38-17 record but refused a place in the postseason. Friday’s win reduced some of the bitterness, but not all. The anteaters are clearly keen to extend their 2021 season to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“It feels good,” said UCI head coach Ben Orloff. “We played like all year today to get to that point. We thought we would have played like this (2019), but we didn’t get that chance. ”
Friday’s win, like most of the UCI’s wins this season, was a combination of timely hitting, solid pitching and steady defense. They scored two runs in the first inning, had a third run with three runs to take a 5-2 lead, and added five in the seventh inning.
UCI catcher Thomas McCaffrey had three hits, including two doubles. First baseman Jacob Castro and second baseman Justin Torres each ran two runs and midfielder Jacob Peabody ran the first run, scoring three times and being hit by a pitch twice.
Peabody was part of the 2019 team.
“We’ve had it in mind since the start of the season,” he said. “I think that was part of what made us the team we are.
“We were consistent all year round and we all pick each other up, no matter what. This team takes great pride in playing good baseball. ”
The Anteaters had 12 hits including seven doubles, made no mistake, used a bit of small fundamental baseball as part of their third three-run innings, and received excellent relief performances from pitchers Gordon Ingebritson and Josh Ibarra.
Nathan Church and Peabody doubles and a ground out covered two runs in the first. The third started with a Taishi Nakawake double and was followed by a victim, a hit, a squeeze of Bunt to get a run, and a double from Torres and McCaffrey. McCaffery added a double filled with bases in the seventh as a large part of the five-run inning.
“It’s hard to say if we have a better offensive than other seasons, but we’re definitely deeper,” said Orloff. “It is satisfactory to have a full inning like the third when we had three doubles and a pair of bunts.”
The Anteaters host the Titans on Saturday (lunchtime) for a double header and the regular season finale on Sunday at 1 p.m. in one of the four West Coast Regionals teams this coming weekend.
Fullerton (20-32, 13-20) finishes the first losing season since it became a Division I program in 1975, and the Titans will miss the postseason for the second straight season. They were 28-27 years old in 2019 and were 4-11 years old before the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fullerton averages a potential school record of 4.5 runs per game while also seeing his praised smallball game being reduced to merely stolen bases. The Titans came into Friday’s game with a 6.31 ERA in league play with opponents beating .314 against them.
CSF head coach Rick Vanderhook declined a request for an interview after the game.