OC Weekly intern David Nicolas reporting . . .
UC Irvine's baseball team was enjoying a dream season. They even got to host the NCAA regional tournament leading up to the College World Series in Omaha. What could possibly go wrong?
Three words: this past weekend. And three more: University of Virginia.
For the first time this season, the Anteaters were shut out, sustaining a 5-0 loss Saturday at the hands and able gloves of Virginia's Cavaliers. That forced a win-or-die, Sunday double-header for UCI.
The Anteaters managed to keep their regional hopes alive, as their bats exploded for 19 hits and helped end San Diego State's season with a 14-3 pounding in the first game. But UCI starting pitcher Christian Bergman gave up four earned runs in 5.2 innings in the second game to--who else?--Virginia's Cavaliers, and double plays and poor defense--including four errors--plagued the 'Eaters in a dream season ending 4-1 loss.
It was unbelievable to witness a team that had the sixth best fielding percentage on the year miscue catches at first base or, even worse, players overrunning balls in the outfield. It was a sloppy game, but bad games happen to every team, even the best team in the league.
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After their drubbing of San Diego State, the Anteaters seemed poised for sweet revenge on the Cavaliers. But the finale proved to be an old-fashioned pitching duel, as Virginia held a small lead for most of the game. UCI could not figure out Virginia starting pitcher Andrew Carraway as he held the Anteaters to only four hits in seven innings. The remnants of the earlier 19 hits were nowhere to be found. Did they change their bats? Was it the cold foggy air? Maybe the bright orange was a tad distracting.
Virginia eventually added three runs to its small lead, making the score 4-1 as UCI put its hopes on a ninth inning miracle. The Anteaters are no strangers to miracles. Just one month earlier, UCI put together a five-run, ninth inning rally and sent a bunch of disgruntled USC bandwagoners up the 405 with a loss. But last night, Virginia closer Kevin Arico stayed strong, and got a little help from his friends. UCI's Ronnie Shaeffer was robbed of a hit by a diving catch in center field. The very next batter hit a sharp ground ball that found the glove of a defender, who beautifully spun and made a perfect throw to first base. The last batter was Francis Larson who struck out on a pitch that seemed above his head.
Despite the loss and early exit from the tournament, a baseball fan could not have been more pleased with UCI's season this year as it finished 45-15. The team hosted its first regional, deemed its recent playoff appearances as more than a lucky fluke, and showed students salivating for something to do that they actually had something to do.
Being eliminated in the first round was a devastating blow, but the appearance ensured that UCI would continue to gain national respect in the baseball community. On top of UCI's second consecutive men's volleyball NCAA title this year and baseball's success, something seems to be going right for Irvine athletics. And it looks like this something is here to stay.