IRVINE — UC Irvine freshman designated hitter Connor Spencer hit his rendition of the pregame national anthem out of the park. But it was not until the seventh inning of the Anteaters' 8-7 nonconference victory over visiting Washington that he executed his encore.
Spencer, who had singled but run into an out on the bases in the sixth inning, lined a three-run triple over the head of the Huskies center fielder with one out in the seventh to break a 4-4 tie. Spencer, who at the time was part of a lower portion of a batting order that was four for 47 in two-plus games during the week (.085), then scored what turned out to be the game-winning run on a double by sophomore second baseman Dillon Moyer. Moyer, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the inning, had been 0 for 10 for the season and four for 37 in his college career (.108).
"It was huge," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said of Spencer's three-run triple, which was the biggest of nine hits for the Anteaters (4-2), ranked No. 21 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. of America. "Huge, huge, giant. Certainly we did more hitting today by a long shot than any other day [this week after going a combined 12 for 62 and scoring two combined runs in two straight home losses to UNLV and Washington]. We know what a big difference [Spencer's triple] made in this game, but I'd like to think it makes a big difference with everybody knowing, 'Well, we can do this.' I think that one hit could be bigger than one hit can sometimes just look like."
Moyer's bloop double inside the right-field line that gave the 'Eaters an 8-4 lead, turned out to be crucial as well, after the Huskies (3-3) cut the lead to one on Trevor Mitsui's three-run home run in the eighth.
UCI, which had gone 12 innings without a leadoff man reaching base, or any runner reaching third base, let alone scoring, finally broke through in the second against Huskies starter George Asmus.
Senior shortstop D.J. Crumlich doubled to left to open the inning, advanced to third on a balk, and scored on Christian Ramirez's sacrifice fly to center.
Senior first baseman Jordan Fox then tripled to right-center and scored on a sacrifice fly by Tommy Reyes.
The good feelings for the home crowd, however, proved short-lived, as Washington parlayed three extra-base hits, including a two-run homer by Caleb Brown, into a 3-2 advantage against UCI starter Andrew Thurman.
An RBI single by Brown in the fifth upped the lead to 4-2, before a bases-loaded double play allowed UCI to pare the deficit to 4-3 in the fifth, and a pinch RBI single by UCI freshman Ryan Cooper knotted things at 4-4 in the sixth.
Ramirez walked to open the UCI seventh and Fox, who went two for three and is now 10 for 19 for the season (.526), was then hit by a pitch. Reyes moved both runners with a sacrifice bunt off newly inserted side-armer Adam Cimber, who then intentionally walked UCI freshman Kris Paularino.
Spencer, who said he was more nervous holding a microphone behind home plate than wielding a bat beside the plate, said he was intent on helping his team in his crucial at-bat.
"I had faced a few submarine guys in high school, but the first pitch got on me quicker than I thought," Spencer said. "The second pitch was a good fastball and, once I was behind [0-2], I kind of thought he'd come back with [the fastball]. He did and this time, I got my [front] foot down on time and got my timing on the pitch. When I hit that ball, I thought 'Great, that's enough to tag up and we're going to take the lead.' Then I looked at it again and saw that it might have a chance of getting over [the center fielder]. Then I got on my horse."
UCI sophomore left-hander Jimmy Litchfield threw 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief, striking out two and allowing one hit, while Nick Hoover, who earned the win, left the bases loaded in his only inning of one-hit relief in the seventh.
Phil Ferragamo, after allowing the three-run homer to Mitsui, retired the next four, three by strikeout, to preserve the lead.
UCI pitchers combined to strike out 12 for the second straight game and Crumlich, who was two for four to snap out of a three-for-21 rough patch to open the season, made the game's best defensive play. He made a sliding stop in the hole, then threw a strike to first to rob a Huskie of a hit to end the second inning.
Spencer, who was in four choir groups as a senior at Tesoro High and said he was pleased with his pregame vocal performance, was two for four with his first three collegiate RBIs.
"That [triple] is definitely going to be a good memory," Spencer said. "It will be a good thing to keep in the bank up at the plate. This game today was something we, as a team needed. We needed that one big output of runs as a team."
The deciding game of the series is Sunday at 1 p.m.
UC Irvine 8, Washington 7
SCORE BY INNINGS
Wash 000 310 030 – 7 9 1
UCI 002 011 40x – 8 9 1
Asmus, Wright (5), Acker (7), Cimber (7) and Anselment; Thurman, Litchfield (5), Hoover (7), Ferragamo (8) and Shaeffer. W – Hoover, 1-0. L – Acker, 1-1. 2B – Ray (W), Pehn (W), Crumlich (UCI), Moyer (UCI). 3B – Ray (W), Fox (UCI), Spencer (UCI). HR – Brown (W), Mitsui (W).