IRVINE — Memorial Day on Monday traditionally marks the end of spring, but a celebration of Summer(s) occurred a few days early Friday night at UC Irvine's Anteater Ballpark.
UCI junior Matt Summers tossed a no-hitter in a 2-0 Big West Conference win over Long Beach State to cap a dominant conference season in which he was 8-0 in Big West Conference series openers.
Summers, struck out five, walked one, hit one batter and faced one over the minimum. He threw 105 pitches, 68 for strikes to produce the fourth no-hitter in school history. It was the first time Long Beach State has ever been hitless in a nine-inning game. The Dirtbags had previously been no-hit in five innings and seven innings.
For the second straight start — following a complete-game two-hitter at Riverside the previous Friday — Summers did not allow a runner to reach second base.
"He has been really spectacular for about six Fridays in a row," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said of Summers, who has won eight straight decisions, and eight of his last nine starts. He is 10-2 in his first season as a full-time starter and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.74. In his last seven starts, his ERA is 1.13.
Last season, Summers, who entered UCI as an outfielder and a pitcher, had a an ERA of 8.51, worst on the staff, in 30 2/3 innings.
"The only no-no I've had was in summer ball and that was five innings," said Summers, who pitched more than eight innings for the first time in his life against Riverside. "I've never come close [to a nine-inning no-hitter]. I never thought it was going to be possible, but the hard work paid off and I just got some breaks."
Summers also made the best defensive play of the night, retreating and falling backward near the infield dirt in front of second baseman Tommy Reyes to catch a soft pop-up for the second out of the seventh. The play was made more difficult by the confluence of Summers, Reyes and first baseman Jordan Fox as the ball floated to the grass, making a collision possible.
"He's a freak athlete by the way," Gillespie said. "That play he made is really not all that shocking.
"He has made tons of progress [as a pitcher this season] and I think he has made himself some money too."
Summers, whose fastball reaches 94 mph, has reportedly been moving up the prospect charts for the upcoming June draft. He mixed a slider and a deft changeup in with the fastball to thoroughly handcuff the 49ers.
Long Beach State Coach Troy Buckley said only about 25 of Summers' pitches were even remotely hittable.
The final out also held some drama, as shortstop D.J. Crumlich ran under a blooper to shallow left field to spark a wild celebration. Summers was mobbed by his teammates near the mound after the last out and later received a towel full of shaving cream in the face during his postgame interview with the media.
"I thought for sure that was going to drop," Summers said of pinch-hitter Brennan Fulkerson's game-ending pop. "I thought, 'No way. It's going to come down to this.'"
No. 24-ranked UCI (39-14, 16-6 in conference and 23-2 at home this season), pulled within a game of first-place Cal State Fullerton, which lost, 5-4, at Cal State Northridge on Friday. There are two regular-season conference games left for UCI, which has won 13 of its last 15, and Fullerton.
Summers said it took a few innings to find his rhythm.
"I was a little geeked up coming into this game," Summers said. "I knew there was a really good opponent and Andrew [Gagnon, the Long Beach State starter] is really good. "I kind of got a little over-excited, because I'm so competitive.
I finally settled down about the third or fourth and that's when things started to come together. And that's when I realized I had a no-no.
"Oh my gosh, it felt like the [ninth] was the longest innng of my life," Summers said. "Everything was just going so slowly. I kept telling myself, 'OK breathe, breathe.' I was a little too excited and a little too getting after it. But then Ronnie [Shaeffer, the UCI catcher] was kind of helping me, telling me to get the ball down and that's how I got my pitches down."
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 2, Long Beach State 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
LBS 000 000 000 – 0 0 0
UCI 000 110 00x – 2 13 0
Gagnon, Frye (7), Underwood (8) and Marjama; Summers and Shaeffer; W – Summers, 10-2. L – Gagnon, 4-10. Sv – Hernandez (13). 2B – Ramirez (UCI), Leyland (UCI).