LOS ANGELES — Survive and advance is the cliché. Demolish and advance is even better. But dictate and advance is best of all.
UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie found his team with the dream scenario in an elimination game Saturday at the NCAA Los Angeles Regional at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium.
A five-run first inning, a 10-0 lead after 3 1/2 innings and a 13-1 cushion after five innings allowed Gillespie to pull starter Christian Bergman and think ahead before eventually claiming a 19-9 triumph over Kent State.
The win allows UCI (38-20) to remain alive in the double-elimination format.
The No. 21-ranked Anteaters will meet LSU (41-21) today at 2 p.m. in another elimination game.
Should UCI win today, it would advance to face UCLA (45-13) tonight at 6 in the first of what could be two regional title games.
Should UCI win twice today, it would meet UCLA Monday at 6 p.m. for the right to advance to a Super Regional.
Gillespie said freshman Evan Brock would start today's first game, with senior Eric Pettis set to start today's potential second game.
Gillespie said Bergman, and perhaps senior All-American ace Danny Bibona, who was roughed up in his first start in four weeks in Friday's 11-10 setback in 11 innings to LSU, would be ready to anchor an "all-hands-on-deck situation" on Monday, if necessary.
"That was strategery," Gillespie said of the decision to lift Bergman after five innings. "[The coaches] argued with ourselves whether to get Bergy out of there even a little earlier, but we decided to leave him in one more inning."
Bergman, who allowed five hits, walked one and struck out four. He yielded one run in the fourth to end his scoreless streak at 27 2/3 .
Bergman earned the win to improve to 9-3 and is now 7-1 with a 2.18 earned-run average in his last 10 starts. He has won his last four starts, allowing one run in 25 innings during that span (a softball-like 0.36 ERA).
But Bergman was only part of the story for UCI, which has now produced 29 runs and 39 hits in two regional games.
After two Kent State errors led to five unearned runs in the UCI first, the Anteaters continued to pile on the Golden Flashes (39-25), who were outscored, 34-10, in two games to earn their ticket back to Ohio.
"Bergy was real good and we got a couple big breaks in that fist inning," Gillespie said. "That allowed us to get us off to a five-run start and then, down through the lineup, we did some hitting."
Senior second baseman Casey Stevenson went five for seven, while senior first baseman Jeff Cusick was three for five with five runs batted in.
Senior catcher Francis Larson was two for four with four RBIs and his third homer of the regional.
Junior outfielder Sean Madigan had three hits and one RBI, while freshman Jordan Leyland went two for five with two RBIs and a booming homer, and junior third baseman Brian Hernandez was two for four with an RBI.
Juniors Drew Hillman and Ryan Fisher had one hit and one RBI apiece.
UCI scored at least one run in every inning for the first time this season. Dating back to the 11th inning Friday against LSU, the 'Eaters, the No, 3 seed in the regional, have scored in 10 straight innings.
"It makes my job easier," Bergman said of the five-run first. "I knew I could just throw strikes and not worry too much about the results, because we know we have the offense to back it up."
UCI has had at least 10 hits in seven of its last eight games and the 19 runs Saturday matched a season high.
"Everybody had a good day today," said Stevenson, who is seven for 12 in the regional, and 21 for 35 in regional play (a .600 batting average) during his three-year UCI career. "We got a few breaks here and there [the Golden Flashes walked nine and made four errors], but for the most part, we hit the ball pretty well today."
In the regional, Cusick is five for 11 with six RBIs, Larson is four for nine with eight RBIs, Madigan is five for 11, Fisher is four for nine with three RBIs, and Leyland is three for four with three RBIs.
"We've always felt that our offense is capable and that one through nine, we can typically send up a tough out," Gillespie said. "I just think we've sort of gotten on a roll."
Sophomore Matt Summers and freshman Matt Whitehouse combined for 3 1/3 inning of one-run relief, after freshman Kyle Hooper surrendered seven runs in two-thirds of an inning after taking over for Bergman.
Los Angeles Regional
UC Irvine 19, Kent State 9
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCI 5 1 1 3 3 2 2 1 1 — 19 21 2 Kent St.
0 0 0 1 0 8 0 0 0 — 9 11 4 Bergman, Hooper (6), Summers (6), Whitehouse (9) and Larson, Shaeffer (9); Starn, Mace (4), Weibley (6), Gill (7), McMillen (9) and Lyon, Bagoly (7). W – Bergman, 9-3. L – Starn, 7-3. 2B – Fisher (UCI), Hernandez (UCI), Cusick (UCI) 2, Leyland (UCI). HR – Larson (UCI), Leyland (UCI), Klafczynski (KS), McMillen (KS).