OMAHA–A day after UC Irvine won a College World Series game for the ages against Cal State Fullerton, the Anteaters might have outdone themselves in the encore.
The ‘Eaters overcame a four-run eighth-inning deficit Tuesday night to beat Arizona State on Ollie Linton’s walk-off bases-loaded single in the 10th. Irvine became the first team ever to win extra-inning CWS games on consecutive days. As intense as UCI’s 13-inning win against Fullerton was on Monday, this one left the 29,034 fans in Rosenblatt Stadium breathless. And it left Anteaters coach Dave Serrano nearly speechless.
“I don’t know if I have words to describe what happened tonight,” Serrano said. “But I will say that the 2007 UC Irvine Anteaters don’t want to take their uniforms off. We want to continue to wear the same uniforms together. Like I said from the start, it will take someone to do something special to eliminate us from this thing.”
Tuesday’s game started out as a brisk pitcher’s duel, remaining scoreless until the fourth when Arizona State starter Brian Flores balked home a run. The teams traded runs each of the next two innings, leaving UCI on top 3-2 after Cody Cipriano’s opposite-field home run in the bottom of the sixth.
But the Sun Devils, who boast the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season, could only be suppressed for so long. Arizona State took the lead with two runs in the seventh and added three more in the top of the eighth, capped by Ryan Sontag’s pinch-hit two-run double. That gave ASU a 7-3 lead with closer Jason Jarvis on the mound.
“It was pretty devastating when they went ahead 7-3, but I don’t think there was a guy in that dugout that thought we couldn’t make the comeback,” Serrano said.
It started with back-to-back pinch-hit walks by Dillon Bell and Zach Robinson, followed by another walk to Taylor Holiday. With the bases loaded and no outs, Jarvis hit Ben Orloff to make it 7-4. The next batter, Cipriano, singled up the middle to cut the deficit to two runs. Then Matt Morris tied it up with a double to right-center field. The Anteaters might have taken the lead on that play, but Cipriano was held up at third base, and he grabbed third-base coach Greg Bergeron to stop himself. By rule, Cipriano was called out, and Arizona State got out of the inning with a double play.
Serrano had decided he would use ace righthander Scott Gorgen (13-3) on two days’ rest if the Anteaters could get within two runs, so Gorgen trotted out to start the ninth. He worked an uneventful ninth inning but found himself in his own bases-loaded jam in the 10th. But Gorgen got Brett Wallace to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to escape the threat.
That set the stage for the bottom of the 10th, when Morris singled with one out against Arizona State ace Mike Leake (13-2) and stole second to get the rally started. Three batters later, Linton lined a 2-2 pitch past a diving Wallace at first base and into right field, driving home Morris with the winning run.
“I felt the energy coming from the crowd, but more, I felt the energy coming from the dugout. Our teammates are always behind us, and they pushed me to get that hit,” Linton said.
UC Irvine has become the darling of Rosenblatt, winning the hearts of the fans much like Oregon State did a year ago. The second-largest crowd in CWS history packed the stadium for Tuesday’s classic, and it’s easy to see why the Anteaters are such a crowd favorite. They truly never quit–not even when the opposing team takes a four-run lead in the eighth inning.
“Even though all that happened, I knew we were going to come back and win,” Cipriano said.
Good teams have confidence, but great teams simply know they’re going to win. It’s beyond a swagger–it’s a sense of certainty. UC Irvine exudes that mentality from every pore.
“When I found out I had to go down to start warming up to get ready for the ninth inning, I knew we had it in the bag,” Gorgen said. “I was going to be on with my pitches and I was going to give us the best shot to win.”
After this game, even Arizona State coach Pat Murphy is starting to believe in the Anteaters.
“Give Irvine a tremendous amount of credit,” Murphy said. “They play with tremendous enthusiasm, they play with a lot of energy. They reminded me of our ’05 team, a team of destiny. Probably not going to win the whole thing, but a team of destiny. And they may.”
UCI is trying to become just the second team in the past 25 years to win three games in its first CWS appearance, joining the 1994 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. And though the odds are stacked against the ‘Eaters winning back-to-back games against a rested Oregon State club the next two days, it’s hard to doubt these guys after what they’ve accomplished. Irvine has had to topple a host of college baseball superpowers just to get this far.
“A lot of this stuff probably won’t start to hit me until it’s all over, about really what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished to this point, what we can continue to accomplish,” Serrano said. “Just to think about that: University of Texas, Wichita State, Cal State Fullerton, and now Arizona State. And the next one on the docket I guess is the defending national champion Oregon State.
“It’s pretty amazing, and that’s what’s so special about this sport. The biggest and strongest don’t always win; it’s the best team.”
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