UCI Survives Late Rally From UC Riverside for Senior Day Victory, 7-5

Photo provided by UCI Athletics

The UCI Baseball team (38-17, 19-11) completed the sweep of the UC Riverside Highlanders (11-41, 5-25) to close the regular season with a 7-5 senior day victory at Anteater Ballpark on Saturday, May 27. The ‘Eaters ended the season on a six-game win streak, breaking school records for most home runs, walks, and runs in a single season.

As of May 29, the ‘Eaters were snubbed of a selection into the NCAA Division I Tournament despite ending the season on a six-game winning streak and a stellar out-of-conference record. UCI was seeded as one of the first four teams out of the tournament. 

This win marks the end of the season for the ‘Eaters, who will return hungrier than ever next season following their postseason snub this year.

Both teams started off the game defensively, as UCR sophomore left fielder Jacob Badawi made a great diving catch on a hard hit from UCI junior outfielder Caden Kendle. In return, graduate pitcher Andre Antone showed defensive prowess by catching Badawi’s line drive shot right back to him. This was followed by an amazing diving catch by UCI redshirt junior center fielder Luke Spillane who got the last out of the second inning.

Antone racked up a no-hitter in his four innings on the mound. He totaled four strikeouts and let up three walks on the night. 

UCI dealt the first blow in the third with a single from junior infielder Jo Oyama. Oyama didn’t have to wait long to come across home as Kendle, the next batter up, hit a dinger to deep right center field. His eighth home run of the season gave the ‘Eaters a 2-0 lead.

More nifty defense got the Anteaters quick to bat again as UCI turned what could have been a hit to a quick double play, followed by Antone striking out UCR junior infielder Anthony Mata.

In the fourth inning, the Highlanders pulled starting junior left-handed pitcher Jake Gebb for redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Corbin Barker.

The ‘Eaters quickly attacked him, loading the bases with no outs. 

UCI redshirt sophomore second baseman Will Bermudez capitalized with an RBI to increase the lead to 3-0. Oyama continued the scoring, hitting a sacrifice fly to deep left field to extend the Anteater lead by another run.

In the fifth inning, Irvine made their own pitching change, replacing Antone with sophomore right-handed pitcher Cooper Robinson. Riverside attacked him out the gate, opening with a homer to right center field from sophomore outfielder Jayden Lopez.

The Highlanders continued their comeback efforts as sophomore outfielder/infielder Andrew Gamez doubled to left field for an RBI, cutting the Anteater lead in half at 4-2. 

UCI head coach Ben Orloff made another pitching change, inserting redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Tanner Brooks. He prevented further damage, closing the inning with a flyout and strikeout.

In the sixth inning, Riverside remained resilient in spoiling the Anteater’s hopes at postseason baseball. Junior second/third baseman Dominic Martinez doubled to right field for an RBI. The Highlanders had the tying run at third after an error by Kendle, mishandling the ball in the outfield.

UCR quickly capitalized as Mata grounded out to second, allowing the tying run to reach home plate.

With playoff baseball in jeopardy, star redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Jacob King entered the game in the seventh inning. UC Riverside showed little concern as they plowed past the ‘Eaters with a home run by Badawi, taking the lead at 5-4.

The Anteater offense responded to the adversity by retaking the lead later in the seventh. Sophomore shortstop Dub Gleed led the charge, hitting an RBI to tie the game at 5-5. An error committed by the Highlander defense on the same play allowed Kendle to reach home plate for the go-ahead run.    

The ‘Eaters maintained their offensive rhythm in the eighth inning, adding an insurance run off an RBI from freshman first baseman Anthony Martinez to center field for the two-run advantage. 

King slammed the door on the Highlander offense, striking out redshirt senior catcher Jacob Shanks. The Anteaters completed the series sweep over UC Riverside, finishing the match at 7-5, and provided themselves with a chance for playoff baseball. 

After the game, Orloff was asked about the team’s mindset with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament committee seeding around the corner. 

“It feels like we’ve been in playoff games the last month or so and it felt like they were all gotta have them,” Orloff said.“To do what we did down the stretch when we really needed it, I’m really proud of this group.”

Donnell Fuller is a Sports Intern for the Spring 2023 quarter. He can be reached at ddfuller@uci.edu.

Miguel Rodriguez is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at miguer9@uci.edu.