LOS ANGELES — The walk-off hero, Ronnie Shaeffer, said he sneaked his game-winning single by UCLA first baseman Dean Espy in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Anteaters a 4-3 win in the NCAA Los Angeles baseball regional Sunday at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Some would say UCI (42-16) also sneaked by the top-seeded Bruins (35-24) without having to face their two best starting pitchers, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, to claim the program's third regional crown in five seasons.
Cole, selected No.1 in the major league draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, and Bauer, the Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year who went No. 3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks, were deemed perhaps the two best pitchers in UCLA history by Bruins Coach and former UCI head man John Savage. But when San Francisco upset Cole in the opening round Friday, Bauer and the Bruins were relegated to outdueling Fresno State in Saturday's elimination round.
UCLA then burned No. 3 starter, Adam Plutko (who Savage called the best freshman pitcher in the country) in another elimination game Sunday morning against USF, leaving mid-week starter Zack Weiss, another freshman, to make his third start against UCI this season.
The Anteaters, who are 9-0 in winning the Round Rock (Texas), Lincoln (Neb.) and Los Angeles regionals in 2007, 2008 and 2011, respectively, will not however miss Virginia ace Danny Hultzen when they venture to Charlottesville, Va. for the best-of-three super regional that opens Saturday at 10 a.m. (PDT) Sunday's game starts at 10 a.m. (PDT) Both games will be aired on ESPNU.
If a third game is needed it will be Monday.
Hultzen, a junior left-hander picked No. 2 overall Monday by the Seattle Mariners, is 11-3 with a 1.57 earned-run average this season and is 31-5 with a 2.18 ERA and 378 strikeouts in 305 1/3 career innings.
Hultzen is also hitting .336 with one home run and 34 runs batted in this season. He was seven for 11 with five RBIs in three regional games, in which the Cavaliers (52-9), the No. 1 national seed, outscored their opponents, 29-3.
Hultzen pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings against the 'Eaters as a freshmen, when UVA defeated UCI twice to eliminate UCI from the 2009 Irvine Regional at Anteater Ballpark.
UCI is 1-1 in super regionals. It swept Wichita State in 2007 to earn the program's first and only trip to the College World Series. UCI was three outs away from sweeping at LSU in a 2008 super regional, before the Tigers rallied to win Game 2 and cruised to victory in the deciding third game. The 2008 regional had been the last dog-pile situation for UCI, until Sunday, when the 'Eaters used their ability to produce myriad heroes to end the Bruins' season.
Shaeffer, who had two hits in his last 28 regular-season at-bats, and struck out in his first regional at-bat to make it 10 Ks in 29 at-bats, got the biggest hit of the season with the aforementioned opposite-field single with two strikes and runners on second and third with no outs.
The hit, which would have been a two-run double had the game not officially ended when the run scored from third, made the first-team All-Big West catcher six for 10 in the regional with five RBIs to capture the four-team tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
Senior pinch-hitter Jon Hurst opened the winning rally with a nine-pitch walk off Weiss, who was then lifted for reliever Nick Vander Tuig.
Junior designated hitter Jordan Leyland, whose six RBIs in the regional led all players, greeted Vander Tuig with an RBI double into the left-field corner.
Junior second baseman Tommy Reyes, who was six for 11 and scored four runs on his way to all-regional honors, followed with a bunt single down the third-base line to put runners at the corners. He then stole second to set the stage for Shaeffer.
"We had charts on these [UCLA pitchers] from the last two times we played them [a regular-season nonconference split with both teams winning at home] and they had thrown me a lot of fastballs in those two games," Shaeffer said. "That double in the fifth [an RBI blow that capped a two-run inning that cut into a 3-0 deficit] was an off-speed pitch, so I was sitting there ready for some fastballs."
Senior Brian Hernandez singled in the first UCI run and provided his usual sparkling defense at third base.
Junior first baseman Jordan Fox made two diving stops to rob would-be hits.
Nick Hoover, Andy Lines and Phil Ferragamo combined for 3 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout relief to back up freshman starter Andrew Thurman, who allowed eight hits and three runs before exiting with one out in the sixth.
Ferragamo, a freshman who struck out the side in the ninth and left the bases loaded in the eighth, earned the win and is 2-0.
UCLA left 13 runners on base and stranded 40 in four tournament games.
Leyland, Reyes and Shaeffer, the bottom third of the batting order, had six of UCI's nine hits.
Junior shortstop D.J. Crumlich (five for 10 with two RBIs) and Hernandez (four for 13 with two RBIs) were also all-regional honorees for UCI, which Anteaters Coach Mike Gillespie said continues to the get the most out of its talent.
"It's a special achievement for us," said Gillespie, who has now guided 10 teams into at least the super regionals in 24 seasons, the first 20 at USC. "I really feel that these guys have played as close to their level of ability as any team I've had. A variety of different guys have come up big in different situations in different games."
Weiss, who earned one win and left his two other starts against UCI leading this season, gave the Anteaters credit.
"I think they're a very good team," said Weiss, who played at Northwood High in Irvine. "They do the little things right … They're scrappy and they are tough outs. There is not an easy out in that lineup."