IRVINE — Sure a walk-off homer was fun for the fans, but the UC Irvine baseball team reverted to its more typical means of achieving victory Thursday night in the Big West Conference series opener against visiting UC Davis.
This time, instead of Drew Hillman clearing the fence for a two-run, two-out game winner in the 12th inning, as he did Tuesday against San Diego, it was junior second baseman Tommy Reyes executing a two-strike safety squeeze bunt to break a 2-2 tie in the eighth.
The bunt plated junior first baseman Jordan Leyland, who doubled over the center fielder's head to open the inning for the only extra-base hit of the game.
Leyland went to third when an errant pickoff throw to second skipped into center field, leaving the go-ahead run 90 feet away with no outs.
Ronnie Shaeffer popped out. A near-disastrous squeeze attempt followed when junior Scott Gottschling threw his bat at pitchout that the Davis catcher had indicated before the pitch, as the Aggies were attempting to issue a free pass.
Leyland dived back into third just ahead of the throw from the catcher on the play, dodging a rally-killing pickoff.
After Gottschling walked, starting pitcher Matt Summers, a former two-way player, was called on to pinch hit, his first at-bat of the season. After working a 3-1 count, Summers received an intentional ball four to load the bases.
Reyes took the first pitch for a ball, then fouled off a safety squeeze attempt.
He took strike two then, with a 2-2 count, bunted the ball cleanly to the pitcher up along first. Leyland lumbered home to give UCI the lead and Reyes collected a hit when no one covered first base.
Gottschling was out at the plate trying to score on the play and the inning ended on a subsequent popup.
Senior Brian Hernandez, who was four for four and is now seven for nine for the week as the UCI starting third baseman, worked a perfect ninth to record his eighth save. Hernandez, who raised his batting average 20 points to a team-leading .358, earned the pitching victory Tuesday. He is now 3-0 with eight saves and his earned-run average is 0.96 in 18 2/3 innings. Hernandez also continued to display sparkling defensive at third base, diving to his left to rob a hit and limit a Davis rally in the sixth inning.
"Hernandez was a star tonight every way you can think of," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie,who added that his third baseman and closer has been "a phenomenal player all year."
Summers was also key for UCI (25-9, 7-3 in conference), ranked No. 17 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. Summers allowed six hits and two earned runs in eight innings to improve to 6-2. He has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his 11 starts this season. He walked one and struck out four and retired 18 of the first 20 he faced.
The win upped UCI's home record to 16-0 this season. Including last season, UCI has won 17 straight at Anteater Ballpark, tying a school record set in 1974.
Leyland and Shaeffer each had two hits for UCI, which had at least one of its 12 hits in each inning and stranded 10. UCI scored two in the fifth on back-to-back RBI singles by Madigan and Hernandez.
Davis (8-23, 2-5) scored one in the sixth and one in the seventh to pull even.
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 3, UC Davis 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCD 000 001 100 – 2 6 1
UCI 000 020 01x – 3 12 0
Quist, Lucas (7), Popkins (8), Briner (8) and Kalush; Summers, Hernandez (9) and Shaeffer. W – Summers, 6-2. L – Lucas, 0-3. Sv – Hernandez (8). 2B – Leyland (UCI).