UCI closer delivers once Moore

With the UC Irvine baseball team this season, Moore has meant less for opposing hitters. Anteaters junior closer Sam Moore nailed down his nation-leading 15th save Saturday to help UCI claim a 5-4 Big West Conference victory over visiting Cal State Northridge.

It was the fourth consecutive conference game that Moore has saved for UCI and the 6-foot-1, 200-pound right-hander has not blown a save opportunity this season.

Moore got the final five outs Saturday, the 10th time he has pitched more than one inning to collect a save, and continues to defy the odds, as well as hitters, by collecting outs without big-time velocity.

In his first two seasons, Moore pitched just 14 2/3 innings, posting a 5.52 earned-run average with no decisions. But after projected closer Mitch Merten missed the opening of the season with arm trouble, Moore stepped in and has thoroughly stepped up.

"He has always been a bulldog, especially now that he has confidence," junior catcher Jerry McClanahan, who had the winning run batted in Saturday, said of Moore. "He kind of came out of left field, but he has really embraced that closer role. He just gets after it and kind of comes right at guys."

UCI Coach Mike Gillespie commented about Moore's mound swagger before the season began and Moore has backed up his bravado with masterful results. In 30 2/3 innings this season, he has allowed four earned runs (a 1.79 ERA) and 17 hits. He has walked just five and struck out 28. He has allowed runs in only three of his 18 appearances and his lone loss came in a three-inning relief stint against Fresno State in the 10-inning season opener.

With 23 regular-season games left, Moore needs three saves to surpass the current school single-season record shared by Blair Erickson and Eric Pettis.

The first hitter Moore faced Saturday, Matadors cleanup hitter Nick Blaser, doubled into the left-field corner to drive in two runs and pull the visitors within one run. Blaser advanced to third on a groundout to short, but Moore left his stranded by inducing a groundout to second baseman Mikey Duarte to end the threat.

A single and an throwing error by Moore on a swinging bunt along the first-base line, put runners at first and second with one out in the Matadors' ninth. But he struck out leadoff man Ranny Lowe and induced a fielder's choice grounder to shortstop Taylor Sparks to end the game.

"The thing that was most impressive about [Moore] today was that he didn't crack," Gillespie said. "He stayed the course and kept grinding it out. He hung in there and made pitches and that's maybe his best quality. He's got this kind of something that he doesn't rattled. He sort of says, 'This is what it is, and this is what I can do and let's keep doing it.'"

Moore echoed his coach's comments.

"I'm realistic that I'm not up there throwing 100 mph," Moore said. "I have what I have and I just kind of know that I have to be stronger than [hitters] mentally. I just go out and attack hitters and the harder I attack, the better my stuff is.

"I felt good today," Moore said. "All my stuff was moving as much as it ever has. And when those runs score, when any run scores, I just get back to the mentality that every batter is important. When someone drives in a run, it doesn't really chip away at my confidence. It gets me riled up and that's a good thing. I tell myself I'm not going to let that happen again."

It was the seventh win in nine one-run decisions this season for UCI (23-11, 7-1 in conference), which moved one-half game ahead of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo atop the Big West with the Mustangs' playing late Saturday night in Hawaii. UCI, which was 17-18 in games decided by three runs or fewer last season, is now 14-7 in similar decisions in 2014.

The win, the fifth straight in conference for UCI, was also keyed by starting pitcher Elliot Surrey and Duarte, who had two of the hosts' three RBIs.

Surrey allowed one run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings to improve to 5-2. It was the left-hander's fourth straight quality start.

Duarte plated UCI's first run with a safety squeeze bunt in the second inning to knot the score, 1-1. Duarte singled with two outs to drive in McClanahan in the sixth to give UCI a 4-1 lead, and McClanahan's two-out single in the seventh drove in Sparks, who had singled and advanced to second on the throw home that nailed Chris Rabago at the plate.

It was the 10th RBI in eight conference games for McClanahan, whose 21 RBIs this season trail team co-leaders Sparks and junior first baseman Connor Spencer (24 each).

"[McClanahan, now hitting .297] has probably been the guy who leads the team in hard-hit outs and in big hits," Gillespie said. "He has probably been our best clutch hitter."

McClanahan said he is happy to contribute at the plate, as well as behind it.

"It is always nice to get big two-out knocks," McClanahan said. "It definitely helps me relax when I know my swing is where I want it to be."

Sophomore left fielder Grant Palmer and junior center fielder Justin Castro also had two hits for the winners. Palmer also made a diving catch of a sinking fly ball to leave two runners stranded in the seventh.

"We had some good hitting and some good pitching and some luck, so it was a good win," Gillespie said.

Cal State Northridge (13-21, 2-6) will attempt to avert being swept in the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m.

Big West Conference

UC Irvine 5, Cal State Northridge 4


CSUN 010 000 020 – 4 9 1

UCI 010 021 10x – 5 11 1

Keel, Cortez (6), Warner (8), Maltese (8) and Alexander; Surrey, Merten (7), Moore (8) and McClanahan. W – Surrey, 5-2. L – Keel, 0-7. Sv – Moore (15). 2B – Lowe (CSUN), Blaser (CSUN).

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