IRVINE — UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie knows full well the ability of his former USC assistant, John Savage, to build a pitching staff capable of getting all the way to Omaha.
But three combined batted balls that traveled a combined 140 feet proved to go an even longer way toward producing a 2-1 UCI victory in the nonconference game before a season-high crowd of 1,442 at Anteater Ballpark on Tuesday.
Senior Sean Madigan drove home the game-winning run from third base with a swinging bunt that rolled about 10 feet in front of the plate in the eighth inning. That run, scored by pinch-runner Dillon Moyer, reached base when 6-foot-5, 225-pound designated hitter Jordan Leyland led off the inning with a drag-bunt single.
UCI’s first run scored from third base on a squibber to the first baseman by Leyland in the fifth inning. Leyland’s nubber and his bunt single halfway up the third-base line, joined Madigan’s top-spin trickler to produce the aforementioned 140 feet.
But while the No. 24-ranked Anteaters (38-14) were managing only four hard-hit singles off a vaunted Bruins pitching staff that has now limited opponents to two or fewer runs in 30 games this season, UCI freshman starter Andrew Thurman was posting arguably his most impressive outing.
Thurman struck out a career-high nine through seven innings, allowing just four hits and walking two. His only mistake was bashed over the right-field fence by UCLA third baseman Cody Regis in the fourth inning.
Freshman Phil Ferragamo and sophomore Andy Lines combined for one scoreless relief inning and senior closer Brian Hernandez got the final three outs for his 12th save.
The win should help UCI’s case toward a potential No. 2 seed in one of 16 four-team regionals, for which pairings will be announced Monday.
It also avenges a 6-1 loss at No. 23-ranked UCLA (31-21), on April 26.
“I believe that it’s a great boost,” Gillespie said of his team’s 12th win in its last 14 games. “I think it’s reaffirmation that [UCI players] are good and they can play with anybody … The pitching staff on this UCLA team is built to go to Omaha and be pitching on the last day. So, this is a great win and everybody should feel good about it.”
It was another in a recent string of strong pitching performances for UCI, which has allowed just nine runs in its last six games. UCI has yielded no more than two runs in any of those games, mirroring a UCLA squad that leads the Pac 10 in earned-run average (2.33) and opponent batting average (.199).
Bruins’ freshman starter Zach Weiss, a product of nearby Northwood High who came in with a 2.72 ERA and five wins, including one against UCI, retired the first 12 before Drew Hillman lined a single to right field to open the fifth.
Hillman was thrown out trying to steal second, but Jordan Fox was hit by a pitch and went to third on a line single by Christian Ramirez.
Fox then scored on Leyland’s fisted roller up the first-base line. UCLA first baseman Dean Espy fielded the ball and appeared to be readying to throw to second for an attempted double play. But he bobbled the ball, forcing him to tag first and give Leyland an RBI.
“Thurman was pretty good,” Gillespie said. “It was a big night for him. And Hernandez was good . We got just enough here and there and a little luck here and there and we caught [the ball]. We didn’t beat ourselves with errors.”
Thurman struck out the side in the first and sixth innings, fanned the leadoff hitter in the second and seventh, and ended the fourth inning with one of five called third strikes.
UCI halted the seventh with a double play, as UCLA managed just six hits.
UC Irvine 2, UCLA 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCLA 000 100 000 — 1 6 0
UCI 000 010 01x — 2 5 0
Weiss, Vander Tuig (8) and Heineman; Thurman. Ferragamo (8), Lines (8), Hernandez (9) and Shaeffer. W – Lines, 5-2. L – Weiss, 5-3. Sv – Hernandez (12).
2B – Amaral (UCLA) . HR – Regis (UCLA).