UC Irvine couldn’t have imagined a better game than the one they delivered at the Sunken Diamond in Stanford on Friday night.
In their first postseason game since 2014, Michael Frias of the Anteaters beat a complete two-hitter and the offense beat Nevada with 13 hits and a lot of sharp baserunning in a 7-0 win in the double elimination with four Stanford Regional teams.
Big West Conference champion Anteaters (41-16) moved up to a Winner’s Bracket game against hosts Stanford (34-14) on Saturday at 6pm (ESPN3). Nevada (25-19) and North Dakota State (41-18) will meet in a playoff game at 1pm on Saturday
Frias got off to a terrific season in which he went 8-1 with a 3.03 ERA, and he had let the Wolfpack chase after his range of curveballs, sliders and changeups all evening.
He allowed an infield single in the second and a single in the fourth while walking two, hitting Nevada bully Dillon Shrum three times with inside punches that lightly grazed him or his jersey.
“I was just trying to be myself,” said Frias, a former servite high standout in his second full season with the UCI. “All week we talked about everyone going out and doing what we normally do, and it really was a great night.
“The mental plan was to throw my pitches for punches and not worry about my speed,” he added. “I just mixed my pitches and pitched them into spots.”
He rarely pitched faster than the high 80s, but he had great control. He relied on his defense, especially shortstop Taishi Nakawake, who processed 11 chances (eight assists, three putouts) flawlessly and played two doubles.
“Frias has been our best guy all year and he threw this game for a reason,” said UCI coach Ben Orloff. “That was as good as him, but it doesn’t surprise any of us. He loves the moment, it doesn’t bother him, doesn’t bother him. He was beating like himself tonight, not trying to do anything special, but he was. He was the man. ”
The only drama came when Shrum, the hottest batsman in baseball, was on the plate. He beat .479 that season with 15 homers and 47 RBIs, and came into the game with a 13-game hitstreak in which he hit an unfathomable .659 with 31 RBIs.
Frias tossed it carefully and refused to give him anything over the plate. As a result, he met Shrum in the first three at-bats, all pitches that easily hit him on the lower body.
“The approach was to hit the ball inward with fastballs and try to get two hits at it,” said Frias. “I knew if I missed it it couldn’t be in the middle. If I missed it would be downstairs or inside.
“Nothing was intended there. I was just trying to do my pitches. ”
The Nevada bank snapped the anteaters after the third hit-by-pitch, which was cleared on a 1-6-3 doubles game, and Frias patted his chest in a gesture that suggested it was not intended.
But obviously the intention was not to let Shrum swing the bat. He was kicked out on the ninth.
The Anteaters scored a run in the first and added solo runs in the fourth and fifth to build a 3-0 lead. Then they finished the game on an eighth in four runs, using a squeeze play and heads-up run to further frustrate Nevada.
UCI wasted little time jumping up against the champions of the Mountain West Conference. Nathan Church doubled himself with an out in the first corner in the right corner of the field and came home on Michael Peabody’s falling single into midfield.
The Anteaters made it 2-0 in their fourth game, Justin Torres crossed the field with an outside fastball for his fourth home run of the season.
In the fifth line, Nakawake hemmed a double into the left corner of the field and came home on Church’s double from the midfield fence. Below 0 and 2, the right fielder hit an up fastball to see Jackson for UCI’s fifth extra-base hit of the game.
With an on and an out in eighth place, Thomas McCaffery lined a single to left field and pinch runner Woody Hadeem moved up to third. Adam Damla then dropped a perfect squeeze game to hit Hadeem and safely hit the first when the throw was wild for the first.
Another run was scored when a home throw ricocheted off the plate during a game. Connor McGuire and Nakawake followed with RBI singles for a 7-0 lead.
“That was as complete a win as it was all year,” said Orloff. “We’ve talked for a long time about wanting to be a better team in June than we were in February, March and April, and I think this is just another step on the way.
“Pitching was magical. The defense was great. The offense was opportunistic. Just a really complete achievement and couldn’t be happier with these kids. They have never played a post-season game so we really enjoyed coming here and playing like ourselves and we look forward to tomorrow. ”
Stanford beat North Dakota State 9-1 in the first game, the Cardinal Pitcher only allowed four hits, while the Stanford Hitters hit four home runs.
Nick Pinto will face Stanford’s Brendan Beck for the Anteaters on Saturday night. Stanford won three out of four against UCI during a non-conference series in Stanford in mid-March.