The most unfathomable season in UC Irvine baseball history ended in the most unlikely manner Wednesday night.
Texas shortstop C.J Hinajosa yanked a home run over the bullpen beyond the left-field wall to lead off the seventh inning and provide the difference in a 1-0 victory that eliminated the Anteaters from the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
It was the first home run of the 2014 College World Series and the first dinger in 116 innings in Omaha, dating back to 2013 CWS. It was only the second homer of the season for Hinajosa and only the second this season off UCI starter Evan Manarino, who was nothing short of brilliant to that point.
Hinajosa's trot around the bases made him the first and only player for either team to get past second base, as the most pitcher-friendly park in college baseball lived up to its reputation.
Texas pitcher Chad Hollingsworth added to his growing reputation. After having gone no more than 4 2/3 innings in his 24 regular-season appearances, all in relief, the rigth-hander flirted with his second complete game in as many postseason starts to help hand the punchless Anteaters the sixth shutout of their season. The sophomore right-hander worked 8 1/3 innings, allowing just three hits, walking none and striking out five to improve to 4-0. On top of a two-hit shutout against Texas A&M on June 2, Hollingsworth has now failed to allow an earned run in 17 2/3 postseason innings. During that time, he has allowed just five hits.
UCI put its leadoff hitter on base in the third, eighth and ninth innings, with its best chance coming in the eighth, when Adam Alcantara was hit by a pitch, then advanced to second on Justin Castro's sacrifice bunt.
But the 'Eaters (41-25), who scored in just two of 27 innings in their second CWS appearance, made it zero for 25 with runners in scoring position in their 25 scoreless frames in Omaha. Junior third baseman Taylor Sparks, the 58th overall pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the recent major league draft, popped to the second baseman for the second out. Junior shortstop Chris Rabago, a 13th-round selection by the Colorado Rockies, then grounded out to end the threat.
Junior first baseman Connor Spencer, an eighth-round draft pick by the New York Yankees, shot his second single of the game to left field to open the UCI ninth. Then, after Hollingsworth's 119th pitch produced a flyout to center, sophomore reliever Travis Duke notched a strikeout and a flyout to end the game and register only his second save.
Texas closer John Curtis was unavailable due to illness.
Manarino, the 'Eaters' No. 4 starter, allowed five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one. Senior Evan Brock added 2 1/3 shutout relief innings, allowing just one hit.
But Texas (45-20), which had lost all three previous meetings to UCI, all in NCAA Tournament play, including a 3-1 UCI triumph in the CWS opener on Saturday, had just enough to advance.
UCI appeared to dodge a bullet in the sixth inning when Texas' Ben Johnson smoked an apparent triple into the left-field corner. But Johnson missed first base and UCI alertly appealed to erase the would-be hit, which made Mark Payton's subsequent single to center far less significant.
The Anteaters were robbed of a run in the third inning when Payton retreated into the right-center-field gap to make a diving catch of Sparks' drive just short of the warning track. Alcantara, who was hit by a pitch to start the third, would have easily scored on the play, had the ball not been caught.
Spencer, whose 91 hits this season were three shy of the school single-season record, went two for four to give him 31 multiple-hit games and a .364 batting average in 2014.
Junior right fielder Kris Paulino and Alcantara, a freshman left fielder, had the other hits for UCI, for which Sparks, hitless in four at-bats on Wednesday, went 15 for 36 in the postseason (.417).
With its 1-2 record, UCI, one of the final four teams admitted to the 64-team NCAA Tournament field before knocking off No. 1 national seed Oregon State in the Corvallis Regional, then sweeping Oklahoma State in the Super Regional, finishes fifth. UCI was third at the 2007 CWS, its only other appearance in Omaha.
"We're really proud of the account we gave of ourselves here," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said in the postgame media conference. "I think [Manarino] pitched outstanding and Connor Spencer has been a phenomenal player for us for three years, including tonight."
— Barry Faulkner
College World Series
Texas 1, UC Irvine 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
Texas 000 000 100 – 1 6 1
UCI 000 000 000 – 0 4 0
Hollingsworth, Duke (9) and Barrera; Manarino, Brock (7) and McClanahan. W – Hollingsworth, 4-0. L – Manarino, 4-4. Sv – Duke (2). HR – Hinajosa (T).