IRVINE — There were some notable firsts in UC Irvine's important 5-4 nonconference victory over visiting Connecticut on Tuesday night.
But when something happens that Anteaters' Coach Mike Gillespie, in his fifth decade as a collegiate coach, has never seen before, rare is not strong enough a word.
The aforementioned novelty act involved a lineup miscommunication that prompted UCI to bat out of order in a two-run first inning. The switch worked out, when junior Jordan Leyland, batting fifth instead of his scripted cleanup spot, singled with the bases loaded to drive in two runs.
But when UConn failed to detect the anomaly, UCI merely shifted back into the correct order the rest of a game that came down to the 'Eaters' final at-bat.
Fifth-year senior Sean Madigan doubled in Drew Hillman (who initiated the batting-out-of-order snafu, but doubled to lead off the ninth in his correct No. 5 spot) with no outs in the eighth to break a 4-4 tie.
Madigan's RBI double helped freshman pitcher Phil Ferragamo record his first collegiate win. It also set up senior Brian Hernandez's first career save.
Hernandez, who started the game at third base and made a couple diving stabs of ground balls that turned into outs, worked a scoreless ninth to help UCI, ranked as high as No. 18 (USA TODAY/ESPN poll) improve to 9-1.
UConn (5-5) came in ranked No. 19 by Baseball America. And with a schedule not loaded with heralded programs outside of Southern California, the win could pay off for UCI when it comes time to hand out NCAA Regional berths.
"It was a really good win that has long-range ramifications," Gillespie said.
"It's a difference-maker perhaps, down the road. So it's good for a lot of reasons, important reasons."
Every big hit, defensive play and pitch turned out to be crucial for the 'Eaters, but there was none bigger than a defensive play that helped limit a Connecticut rally in the eighth.
The Huskies singled and drew a walk off reliever Andy Lines and a fielder's choice force at second put runners on the corners.
Ferragamo, a 6-foot-8 right-hander who had pitched only 1 2/3 innings coming in, was greeted with a solid double toward the left-field corner. But Hillman, ranging to his right, cut the ball off before it reached the fence and threw to cutoff man D.J. Crumlich in shallow left field. Crumlich, the shortstop, wheeled and fired a relay throw to the plate that was in plenty of time to get the runner trying to score from first. But the throw came in on a tough short hop, forcing catcher Ronnie Shaeffer to make a sprawling stab, before tagging out the runner.
"It was a tough pick, a super pick," Gillespie said of Shaeffer's play, which was followed by a groundout to end the inning.
Starter Crosby Slaught, Andrew Thurman and Lines all gave up runs and Gillespie was not pleased with their command.
"I was alarmed by the evaporation of confidence on the part of our pitchers," said Gillespie, who absolved Ferragamo and Hernandez from such scorn. "Those guys have to be able to throw all their pitches [for strikes] at any time and they couldn't and didn't."
Shaeffer and Hillman had two hits apiece to pace UCI's nine-hit attack and Crumlich also singled in a run.
Madigan said there were no nerves in his game-winning at-bat.
"When you've played college baseball for 40 years …," Madigan, who missed the 2009 season with a torn ACL, said with a smile.
UC Irvine 5, UConn 4
SCORE BY INNINGS
UConn 002 100 010 – 4 10 2
UCI 210 100 01x – 5 9 0
Ward, Jolin (4), Fisher (7) and Elliott; Slaught, Thurman (4), Lines (8), Ferragamo (8), Hernandez (9) and Shaeffer. W – Ferragamo,1-0. L – Fisher, 1-1.
Sv – Hernandez (1). 2B – Shaeffer (UCI), Mazzilli (UC), Fuller (UC), Hillman (UCI), Madigan (UCI) .