IRVINE — A postmortem might have been a better summary than a box score, but just as it did on multiple occasions over more than 4 1/2 hours and 457 combined pitches, the UC Irvine baseball team will live to fight another day.
"We didn't deserve to win. [Heck] no," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said after the No. 25-ranked Anteaters fell to 33-18, 13-7 in conference to allow Cal State Fullerton (18-3 in conference) to clinch the Big West crown. "And there is enough blame to go around."
While UCI was charged with one official error, its number of miscues, misplays and missed opportunities would be enough to produce a lengthy how-not-to video.
In the second inning alone, the Anteaters virtually gift-wrapped four runs in a display that Gillespie likened to half-inning futility of unprecedented proportions.
"It was a massive breakdown," Gillespie said of a frame in which UCI gave the Highlanders (29-20, 11-9) seven outs.
An infield pop was lost in the sun and dropped for a single to open the inning. Justin Shults followed with a ground ball inside the first-base bag that would have been an easy out, had first baseman Jeff Cusick not shuffled off the bag after holding the runner and lost his balance trying to retreat to his left to get in front of the bouncing ball.
Still, UCI looked to have salvaged an out on the Shults triple, when second baseman Casey Stevenson took right fielder Sean Madigan's throw and hit catcher Francis Larson on the fly from 150 feet away in plenty of time to get the runner trying to score from first.
But Robert Brantly, a catcher himself, used a nifty slide to avoid Larson's swipe-tag attempt to open the scoring.
The first of three Riverside home runs followed. Then, one out later, left fielder Ryan Fisher misread a catchable line drive that carried over his head for a double.
A flyout and a walk put runners on the corners with two outs and a rundown prompted by a delayed-double-steal attempt ended in an errant throw that allowed a fourth run to score.
"I've probably been there, done that, but my memory is not good enough to remember an inning that bad from one of my teams," said Gillespie, 70, in his 23rd season as a Division I coach and his 39th season as a head coach at the college level. "I just don't know what to say. It was crazy."
Plenty of craziness ensued, including a four-run UCI rally to pull even in the fifth, a six-run UCI seventh that turned a 7-4 deficit into a 10-7 lead, and eight subsequent Riverside runs to help it stay alive in the race for second place.
Five of the eight pitchers UCI used retired no more than one batter, which helped leave sophomore right-hander Matt Summers as the only option when Gillespie and pitching coach Ted Silva elected to remove freshman left-hander Ruben Orozco after he got an out by facing just one batter in the 12th.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Summers, who entered with a 2-2 record, a 9.41 earned-run average, and had allowed 35 hits in 22 innings, gave up a single that produced the go-ahead run. A second run scored on a wild pitch, before Brantly belted a two-run homer to put the game out of reach.
Summers, who started in center field, made two plays that might have propelled UCI to victory earlier. He doubled in two runs to give UCI an 8-7 lead in the seventh inning.
He also made a heady defensive play, directing his momentum toward the infield while catching a sacrifice fly and throwing a bullet to Stevenson, who tagged out a Riverside runner who had strayed just a few steps off of second base for a double play in the eighth.
UCI senior closer Kyle Necke gave up two runs in a three-run eighth inning to blow the save and allowed one in the ninth, forcing catcher Francis Larson to double in the tying run in the ninth to extend the game. Necke, who threw 85 pitches in 4 1/3 innings, allowed five runs, four earned, on seven hits to absorb his fourth loss in five decisions this season.
UCI starter Evan Brock, a freshman who had a win and a save in nine scoreless innings, allowing just two hits the previous week, gave up seven hits and six runs, five earned, in 5 1/3 innings.
"I thought Brock pitched well," Gillespie said, citing the aforementioned lack of defensive support behind him. "I liked what he did and I liked that he'll go out there next week and pitch well."
Cusick was four for seven with one run batted in as eight Anteaters had at least one RBI.
Larson was three for four with one RBI, Stevenson was two for seven with three RBIs, Summers was two for five with two RBIs and Brian Hernandez was two for four with one RBI.
The series' rubber game is today at 1 p.m.
Big West Conference UC Riverside 15, UC Irvine 12 SCORE BY INNINGS
UCR 0 4 0 0 0 2 1 3 1 0 0 4 — 15 18 0 UCI
0 0 0 0 4 0 6 0 1 0 0 1 — 12 15 1 Emmons, Orozco (7), Speigner (7), Wolford (7), Patito (8), Frank (12) and Brantly; Brock, Hoover (6), Whitehouse (7), Hooper (7), Lines (8), Necke (8), Orosco (12), Summers (12) and Larson. W – Patito, 2-0. L – Necke, 1-4. 2B – Shults (UCR(), Nix (UCR) 3, Horts (UCR) 2, Stevenson (UCI), Hernandez (UCI), Hurst (UCI), Larson (UCI), Summers (UCI). 3B – Shults (UCR). HR – Gonzales (UCR), Brantly (UCR), Nix (UCR).
Big West Conference UC Riverside…15 UC Irvine…12(12 innings)