FULLERTON — Neither coach was happy, though both were, once again, in first place.
UCI (20-7, 4-1 in conference), which pounded the Titans, 15-3, Friday to move a game ahead of them atop the Big West standings, will reflect upon offensive and defensive failures in Saturday's setback.
"It's one of those real frustrating ones that is triply, quadruplely frustrating, because it's so important," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who lamented his team's lack of execution on bunts, hit-and-run situations, would-be double plays, base running, as well as pitchers' command.
"Tonight, they exploited our failure to execute," Gillespie said. "We couldn't execute … It's the way games are won and lost."
Titans Coach Dave Serrano said his pitching, led by starter Noe Ramirez — an All-American who struck out nine and allowed one run on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings — helped his team overcome some miscues, as well.
"It went down to the last pitch and tonight was a typical Cal State Fullerton-UC Irvine game," Serrano said. "But there is still sloppiness on our part. The average person in the stands doesn't understand, but we missed three signs and we made some base-running blunders. We are just not playing smart baseball and that's why I scratch my head with this team.
"We're fortunate enough to come off this field with a victory today, because I thought we did some things that allowed them to stay in the ballgame and make it close to the last pitch with the tying run 90 feet away."
UCI, which had hits to lead off five innings, left three runners at third base, including Drew Hillman, who singled to open the ninth against closer Nick Ramirez.
Hillman went to second on Ronnie Shaeffer's sacrifice bunt and went to third on a groundout by Christian Ramirez. But Jon Hurst struck out to end the game, giving Nick Ramirez his seventh save.
Noe Ramirez, now 5-2, ended the third, fourth and seventh innings with strikeouts to help mitigate the Anteaters' 8-4 advantage in hits.
Two singles and a sacrifice fly put the Titans (22-9, 4-1), ranked No. 12 by Baseball America, on top in the first inning.
Hillman singled, went to second on a groundout and scored on Christian Ramirez's single to knot things in the second.
Fullerton scored the game-winner in the fifth. With one out, Jared Deacon singled and went to second on a wild pitch. After Kyle Hooper relieved starter Andrew Thurman, Matt Orloff walked. Ivory Thomas followed with a ground ball that might have been a double play. But shortstop D.J. Crumlich appeared to have trouble getting it out of his glove and second baseman Tommy Reyes' subsequent relay throw to first was low and skipped past first baseman Jordan Leyland far enough for Deacon to score.
Thurman allowed one earned run on three hits in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. Hillman, the only Anteaters' starter to go hitless in Friday's 16-hit barrage, paced UCI by going two for four Saturday.
UCI, ranked No. 16 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, will start junior Crosby Slaught, 12-0 in his career as a starter, in Sunday's series finale at 2 p.m.
"I think it will be another dogfight Sunday," Gillespie said.
Big West Conference
Cal State Fullerton 2, UC Irvine 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCI 010 000 000 – 1 8 1
CSF 100 010 000 – 2 4 0
Thurman, Hooper (5), Litchfield (8) and Shaeffer; No. Ramirez, Floro (8), Ni. Ramirez (9) and Deacon. W – Ramirez, 5-2. L – Thurman, 1-3. Sv – Ni. Ramirez (7). 2B – Leyland (UCI).