UC Irvine Impresses In Big West Showdown Opener, Highlighting College Baseball Roundup


Image credit: Caden Kendle (Photo by Matt Brown/UC Irvine Athletics)

Week 8 is a bit early in the season for a title-deciding series; it’s only just past the midpoint of the regular season, after all. But this weekend’s series between No. 14 UC Irvine and No. 23 UC Santa Barbara has that feel in the Big West.

The Anteaters and the Gauchos were picked to finish first and second in the conference’s preseason poll and both teams have lived up to that billing in the early going, making this weekend’s showdown at Anteater Ballpark all the more significant.

UCI on Friday night struck first, defeating UCSB, 9-3, in the series opener. The Anteaters scored seven runs in the middle innings to break open what had been a pitcher’s duel and roll to their eighth-straight win.

UCI (23-3, 9-1) averages 9.38 runs per game and ranks in the top 20 nationally in scoring. That offense, as usual, led the way Friday for the Anteaters, breaking through against UCSB’s strong pitching staff.

Third baseman Jo Oyama went 3-for-5 with three runs, three RBI, two doubles and a triple to pace the lineup. Shortstop Woody Hadeen (3-for-5, 2 R), center fielder Caden Kendle (1-for-3, 1 R, 2 RBI) and first baseman Anthony Martinez (2-for-3, 1 R, 2 BB) also helped the offense produce nine runs on 12 hits and three walks.

But it wasn’t just about the lineup Friday night. Veteran ace Nick Pinto, who has made more starts (54) and thrown more innings (303.1) than any other active pitcher, delivered again for UCI. He held UCSB (16-9, 4-3) to three runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk in seven innings, striking out six. He picked up the win to improve to 6-1, 2.01 with 48 strikeouts and 13 walks in 49.1 innings this season.

Relivers Nick Rincover and Ricky Tibbett combined to throw two perfect innings to finish the game.

Not only is it early in the season to talk about a series that will decide a conference title, it’s also a little early to talk about a must-win series. But for the Anteaters, this weekend carries that level of urgency if they are to get into this season’s hosting race. Their RPI is in the top 20 now but they came into the weekend with few (if any) premium wins and their remaining schedule lacks opportunities to add them. This weekend is their best opportunity to put a marquee series win on their resume.

Friday night’s victory was a strong start. Now, UCI needs to finish the job.

Ace Watch

Friday night is for the aces. Here we highlight some of the best pitching performances of the day.

Jack Bennett, RHP, Western Kentucky: Bennett outdueled Dallas Baptist ace Ryan Johnson to lead WKU to a 4-1 upset of the No. 10 Patriots. Bennett struck out 11 batters and held DBU to one run on four hits and three walks in 8.2 innings. The sophomore is 4-2, 3.98 with 43 strikeouts and 13 walks in 40.2 innings.   

Patrick Gardner, LHP, Fairleigh Dickinson: Gardner threw a two-hit shutout to lead FDU to a 5-0 victory at Delaware State. The junior struck out 11 batters, walked four and did not allow a hit after the fourth inning. Gardner improved to 3-1, 3.86 with 48 strikeouts and 19 walks in 42 innings.

Sebastian Gongora, LHP, Louisville: Gongora struck out 11 batters in a seven-inning complete game as Louisville routed No. 21 NC State, 11-1. The Wolfpack came into the game averaging 8.3 runs per game (49th nationally) and were held to one run on three hits and a walk. Gongora improved to 4-2, 4.57 with 52 strikeouts and 15 walks in 43.1 innings.

Michael Ross, RHP, Samford: Ross allowed a single to lead off the first inning but then blanked The Citadel the rest of the way in a 2-0 victory. The redshirt junior held the Bulldogs to one hit, two walks and a hit batter while striking out nine. Ross improved to 7-0, 2.66 with 51 strikeouts and 11 walks in 50.2 innings this season.

Brett Sears, RHP, Nebraska: Sears threw a two-hit shutout to lead Nebraska to a 3-0 victory against Ohio State. He struck out 10 batters, walked none and faced just one more than the minimum. He retired the final 14 batters he faced. Sears, a fifth-year senior, is 6-0, 1.14 with 57 strikeouts and nine walks in 55.1 innings.

Trey Yesavage, RHP, East Carolina: Yesavage struck out 11 batters in seven scoreless innings to lead No. 16 ECU to a 4-1 victory at FAU. The junior held the Owls to three hits and two walks and finished his outing with three straight strikeouts. Yesavage is 6-1, 1.86 with 74 strikeouts and 14 walks in 48.1 innings.

Around the Horn

  • Missouri upset No. 4 Florida, 2-1, in 11 innings. Jedier Hernandez played hero with a walk-off single, while righthanders Logan Lunceford (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and Carter Rustad (5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K) were outstanding for the Tigers (13-18, 2-8). They held the Gators (17-12, 6-4) to two hits, the fewest hits Florida has had in a game since it was one-hit in the 2022 SEC Tournament. Missouri has now won three straight after sweeping a midweek series against Tennessee-Martin.
  • No. 6 Vanderbilt came back to defeat No. 25 LSU, 8-6, and even the series in Baton Rouge. The game went back and forth in the early innings, but LSU held a 6-5 lead after seven. The Commodores (24-7, 7-4) weren’t done, however, as Jayden Davis hit a two-run, go-ahead home run in the eighth and helped turn an inning-ending double play in the bottom half of the frame. The series will come down to a rubber game Saturday.
  • No. 12 Virginia defeated No. 13 North Carolina, 7-2, to clinch the series in Charlottesville. Lefthander Evan Blanco stymied the powerful Tar Heels’ offense, which came into the day averaging 9.2 runs per game (18th nationally). He struck out seven batters and held UNC (25-6, 10-4) to two runs on six hits and a walk. It was just the second quality start of the year for the Cavaliers (25-6, 9-5). Virginia continues to be very tough to beat at Davenport Field, where it is 16-2 this season.
  • No. 18 Kentucky stayed hot with a 6-2 victory against No. 11 Alabama. The Wildcats (25-4, 9-1) have won six straight and 13 of their last 14 games. Righthander Trey Pooser delivered a quality start, holding the Crimson Tide to two runs in seven innings and righthander Travis Smith threw two scoreless innings to finish the game. Alabama (22-8, 4-6) has now lost its first four SEC road games.
  • West Virginia’s JJ Wetherholt, an All-American and the reigning Big 12 player of the year, on Friday returned to the lineup for the first time in nearly seven weeks. He had been out since Feb. 19 due to a hamstring injury, but he wasted no time making a big impact in his return. He hit a go-ahead double in the ninth inning to help West Virginia (17-12, 6-4) to an 11-10 victory at Kansas (15-12, 7-6). Serving as the DH, he went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and two RBI.

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