UCI rallies to top Virginia, 6-4

Rain and the threat of lightning delayed Game 2 of the NCAA baseball super regional between host Virginia and UC Irvine for four hours and 18 minutes Sunday.

But it wasn’t until after play had resumed in the bottom of the fifth inning that the Anteaters’ offense finally displayed some voltage, as UCI twice erased deficits to claim a 6-4 victory and force a decisive game in the best-of-three series, Monday at 1 p.m. (ESPN2)

UCI (43-17), the designated home team, trailed, 3-0, midway through the fifth inning, having committed two errors that led to two unearned runs and having extended its scoreless streak against the Cavaliers (53-10), the No. 1 national seed, to 13 super regional innings.

But senior left fielder Drew Hillman’s bolt of a home run beyond the left-field grandstand with two outs in the sixth began to give the ’Eaters some juice.

“It really lifted the dugout,” UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, reached by phone in Charlottesville, said of Hillman’s team-leading sixth homer of the season, his second of the postseason to up his team-leading total to 51 runs batted in. “It electrified the dugout. This was a Dave Kingman home run. I mean, it was a gargantuan blast. This ball was crushed and the fact that it was hit so hard and so far, probably added to the electricity.”

UCI tied it in the seventh, when junior center fielder Christian Ramirez walked to start the inning off just-inserted reliever Justin Thompson and came around to score on a one-out, hit-and-run single by junior second baseman Tommy Reyes. The ball skipped on one hop through the legs of center fielder Kenny Swab for an error that allowed Reyes to get to second.

Junior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer lined the next pitch into center for an RBI single.

But Virginia brought most of the capacity crowd of 5,050 to its feet by regaining the lead after two were out against UCI freshman reliever Andrew Thurman.

Swab gained a measure of redemption when UCI right fielder Sean Madigan slipped while fielding his double toward the line, allowing Jared King, who had singled, to score from first base.

Gillespie said the run would not have scored, had Madigan not slipped on the wet grass, but UCI was faced, yet again, with a deficit.

With one out in the eighth, Hillman laced a double into the left-field corner to chase Thompson and bring on sophomore closer Branden King, who had 17 saves and had won all three of his decisions in 28 appearances in 2011.

King hit Jordan Fox, and Hillman advanced to third on a fly to right by Ramirez. Then, Leyland drove a hanging slider into the gap in left center to drive in two and give UCI its first lead of the series.

“It was a great feeling; super intense,” Leyland, reached by phone, said of his go-ahead double.

Reyes followed with a single inside first base to plate pinch-runner Dillon Moyer and finalize the scoring.

Thurman worked a perfect ninth to cap four strong innings (three hits and one run) and improve to 4-3.

“I was particularly impressed with Thurman, because it was a situation in which he could have been very intimidated and very timid,” Gillespie said of the right-hander, who took over after the delay from sophomore left-hander Matt Whitehouse (three runs, one earned, in five innings). “But he was anything but. He was aggressive. I thought he was really good.”

Gillespie said UCI made good during the delay, during which the Anteaters left the ballpark.

“It was an unusual day,” Gillespie said. “Right up until the time we got sent home, it was not a very impressive day. We screwed up more than one thing, so I have to think that for us, the break was good. I felt once we were an hour into the break, it had to give us a chance to have a fresh thought about the thing. We all said, ‘Well, let’s give those first 4 1/2 innings a funeral and start playing like we can play.”

Leyland agreed that Hillman’s homer — the 14th of the season for the Anteaters, who are now 13-0 in games in which they have a home run — was catalytic.

“I think that was the spark of our offense,” said Leyland, who now has eight postseason RBIs to give him 44 on the year. “Our hitting all season has been contagious and I feel that was the big blow that got everyone fired up and believing we weren’t out of it. And, I think, it carried on throughout the rest of the game.”

Reyes and Hillman had two hits apiece to pace the winners’ 10-hit attack.

Chris Taylor was the lone player with multiple hits for the Cavs, who totaled seven hits and had their eight-game win streak halted.

UCI junior Crosby Slaught (7-2 with a 3.97 earned-run average) will oppose junior Will Roberts (11-1, 1.61 ERA) in Monday’s game, the winner of which will advance to the College World Series, beginning June 18 in Omaha, Neb. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.

“I have no doubt about the fact that our guys will be way amped up,” Gillespie said of Monday’s contest. “Everybody is jacked up, there is no question about it.”


NCAA Super Regional

Game 2

UC Irvine 6, Virginia 4


UVA 101 010 010 – 4 7 1

UCI 000 001 23x – 6 10 2

Wilson, Thompson (7), Kline (8) and Hicks; Whitehouse, Thurman (6) and Shaeffer. W – Thurman, 4-3. L – Kline, 3-1. 2B – Taylor (UVA), Swab (UVA), Hillman (UCI), Leyland (UCI). HR – Hillman (UCI).

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