Anteaters align for win

Daily Pilot

IRVINE — The last man inserted into the UC Irvine baseball lineup came up big Friday night against Big West Conference visitor UC Riverside. But so did the first name Anteaters' Coach Mike Gillespie scribbled onto the lineup card.

The latter, senior starting pitcher Christian Bergman, worked eight crafty innings in a 5-0 triumph at Anteater Ballpark to win his second straight Friday night start.

The last name on the card, however, junior Ryan Fisher, also made Gillespie and his staff appear prescient, as the left fielder went two for two with two doubles and two runs batted in, including a squeeze bunt that pushed across the game's first run.

That initial run proved to be all Bergman and the No. 25-ranked Anteaters (33-17, 13-6 in conference) would need.

Bergman, despite lacking command of his fastball early, allowed six hits, walked two and struck out six. Eric Pettis worked a perfect ninth to continue what has been an incredible streak for the UCI pitching staff.

Despite the absence of senior All-American Danny Bibona, who appears poised to collect his second straight Big West Pitcher of the Year award, UCI pitchers have allowed only two earned runs in their last 44 1/3 innings, dating back to the first inning of a 2-1 win over UCLA on May 11.

During that stretch, Bergman, typically the Saturday starter, has contributed 11 shutout innings in back-to-back Friday blankings while filling the role normally handled by Bibona, who has inflamed rib muscles.

"Danny Who?" Fisher said with obvious sarcasm. "Who's that guy? We've got Bergman to take Danny's spot.

"But we're waiting for [Bibona] to come back. He'll probably be back next week."

Gillespie said some discomfort in a Monday throwing session helped convince a doctor to keep Bibona off the mound this weekend. And Gillespie said he was not sure Bibona would be able to pitch in the regular-season-ending series at Big West rival Long Beach State.

But the left-hander who leads the conference in wins (nine), earned-run average (2.10) and strikeouts (100 in 90 innings) has hardly been missed.

"Well Bergman was the hero," Gillespie said. "… And, I guess Fisher was the man of the hour."

Gillespie said his final lineup decision nearly came down to the 11th hour.

"I'm telling you, this was the hardest lineup to select of any I can remember," said Gillespie, 70, in his 23rd season as a Division I coach. "That could just be Alzheimer's. Right or wrong, we typically have a lineup set the day before or the night before. But I mean I was still taking Rolaids at noon today."

Gillespie said Fisher's spot in the lineup was set after he dropped some antacid.

"[Fisher] was the last guy to go in there," Gillespie said.

Fisher had some offensive help. Senior second baseman Casey Stevenson had two hits and a run, while junior designated hitter Jonathan Hurst, senior outfielder Dillon Bell and sophomore center fielder Matt Summers all had one hit and one RBI.

The lead remained 1-0 into the seventh inning, when the Highlanders (28-20, 10-9) led off against Bergman with a single and a double.

First baseman Jeff Cusick fielded a grounder and nailed a runner at the plate for the first out.

Bergman struck out the next hitter and, after a walk, retired the side on a fly to center, only the second fly-ball out to that point.

Bergman had two outs in the eighth and a 1-2 count on UCR slugger Justin Shults, when Ted Silva, the UCI pitching coach, went to the mound to make a change.

"[Silva] said 'We're going to go the bullpen,' " Bergman said. "And I asked him if he was crazy. I persuaded him to leave me in there and I got the last guy. That's probably the only time I've ever convinced a coach to leave me out there."

The UCI staff's judgment was, clearly, sound to the end.

Big West Conference UC Irvine 5, UC Riverside 0 SCORE BY INNINGS

UCR 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 6 0 UCI

0 1 0 0 0 0 2 2 X — 5 9 0 Andriese and Brantly; Bergman, Pettis (9) and Larson. W – Bergman, 7-3. L – Andriese, 5-5. 2B – Fisher (UCI) 2, Young (UCR). 3B – Hurst (UCI).

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