It would perhaps be easier for UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie to deal with his unbeatable pitching duo getting beat, if Thursday’s nonconference series opener against visiting San Diego State weren’t so, well, winnable.
But it was the Aztecs who dealt the Anteaters some seldom-seen futility in a 3-1 victory that lit Gillespie’s fuse.
UCI senior starting pitcher Andrew Morales threw seven shutout innings and handed the ball over to the nation’s most productive closer in Sam Moore, after Morales had thrown 106 pitches.
Moore, whose 15 saves are tops in the land, registered just one out while allowing three runs, two earned, to collected his first blown save of the season.
It was the first time in nine Morales starts that UCI failed to win, dating back to the season opening 2-0 setback to visiting Fresno State in 13 innings. It was Morales who exited that one after seven shutout innings, only to see Moore sustain his only other loss.
“To have Morales [who has now allowed just two earned runs in 54 innings at home this season] throw another shutout and we’re walking away with a loss …" Gillespie said after barking for more than five minutes at his players down the left-field line.
“We had to win it, 1-0, and it’s too bad we had to win it 1-0, because I kind of felt like we shouldn’t have had to win it 1-0,” Gillespie said. “But we hit a guy and we threw a ball away [to fuel the Aztecs’ three-run eighth inning] and here we go. But I am most disappointed by our lack of ability to do something at the plate. That’s what kills me.”
UCI managed eight hits off of Aztecs’ starter Mike Robards, who came in 3-3 with a 4.99 earned-run average. The ‘Eaters added a single off of closer Michael Cederoth, who flirted with disaster, before locking down his 14th save of the season by getting the final four outs.
A single and a walk with two outs put the potential tying run aboard in the UCI eighth, but Cederoth struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Cooper to end the threat.
In the UCI ninth, pinch-hitter Evan Cassolato walked and Grant Palmer bounded an infield single to the left of the third baseman to give the UCI rooters something to get excited about. But after a sacrifice put the potential tying run in scoring position, Cederoth, with a fastball that approaches 100 mph, struck out boppers Connor Spencer and Taylor Sparks to end it.
After Morales (7-0 this season and 17-0 as an Anteater] struck out 11 and allowed only two runners to reach second base, the Aztecs must have been happy to see Moore, despite his impressive save total, take the mound.
Moore plunked leadoff man Greg Allen in the back and, after a sacrifice bunt, third baseman Chris Rabago fielded a routine grounder and threw over the head of Spencer at first for a two-base error that tied the score. Following an intentional walk, back-to-back run-producing singles by Seby Zavala and Brady Haynal gave the visitors (27-12) all they would need.
UCI which fell one-half game behind Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the Big West Conference standings after the Mustangs thumped visiting Cal State Fullerton, 8-0, Thursday, fell to 24-13. It was the fifth loss in the last six nonconference games for the ‘Eaters, who have lost eight of their last 11 outside of conference play.
Junior catcher Jerry McClanahan went two for four and Spencer went two for five to pace UCI’s nine-hit performance.
“We win games when we really pitch, we play catch and we scratch and claw and take advantage of their base on balls, them hitting a guy or them kicking one or throwing one away,” Gillespie said. “Maybe once in a while, there’s a little more offense, but whose kidding who, we are light offensively.
“It’s hard to be unhappy with Sam Moore, because he has been the guy,” Gillespie said."Maybe it was the law of averages there. It happens.”
The series resumes Friday at 6:30 p.m.
San Diego State 3, UC Irvine 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
SDSU 000 000 030 – 3 5 1
UCI 000 010 000 – 1 9 1
Robards, Cederoth (8) and Haynal; Morales, Moore (8), Litchfield (8) and McClanahan. W – Robards, 4-3. L – Moore, 0-2. Sv – Cederoth (14). 2B – Spencer (UCI). 3B – Rabago (UCI) .