No. 25 Anteaters Edge 'Huskers In Series Opener; Teams To Play Doubleheader Saturday
LINCOLN, Neb. ---UC Irvine survived a ninth-inning rally and edged Nebraska, 7-6 Friday at Haymarket Park. The win lifted the Anteaters to 13-4 over all while the 'Huskers fall to 9-7. Due to expected cold weather Sunday, the two teams will play a doubleheader Saturday, beginning at 10:00 a.m. (PT) with the second game expected to start 45 minutes following the conclusion of the first.
In the Nebraska ninth, reliever Jimmy Litchfield, who had pitched 2.1 innings of shutout relief after picking up for Kyle Davis in the sixth, surrendered a hit that was just out of the reach of a leaping Taylor Sparks to fall for a double in shallow left-field. Litchfield handed the ball to Sam Moore who walked Jake Placzek and then gave up a run-scoring single to Ben Miller. Nebraska continued to rally as Placzek took third on a fielder's choice by Tanner Luback and then scored on a grounder to short by Austin Darby. However, Moore battled and calmly handled a soft bouncer back to the mound off the bat of Steven Reveles to earn his ninth save.
UCI gave starter Andrew Morales an early lead, scoring two runs in the first. Grant Palmer worked a walk to lead off the game and took second on a single by Chris Rabago. Connor Spencer followed with a one-out double past the third-base bag to drive in Palmer. Rabago was waved around but was tagged out at home on a clean relay by Nebraska. However, Jerry McClanahan extended the inning, driving a 2-2 pitch past the diving Placzek at third to score Spencer, giving UCI a 2-0 lead.
The Anteaters threatened again by loading the bases in the top of the fourth. Spencer and Kris Paulino were issued a base on balls, sandwiching a single by McClanahan, who was 2 for 4 for UCI. Justin Castro was the third batter of the frame to be given a free pass, allowing Spencer to plate the third run, chasing starter Kyle Kubat from the game.
Taylor Sparks, UCI's Big West Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, got his first hit of the series in the fifth, blasting a two-run home run to left centerfield to widen UCI's lead to 5-0.
All good things come to an end as Morales' scoreless inning streak was stopped in the bottom of the fifth at 34 1/3 innings. Austin Christensen led off the frame with a single and Morales walked back-to-back batters to load the bases. After striking out designated hitter Christian Cox, Morales walked Tanner Lubach to put Nebraska on the board. Reveles followed with a two-out hit up the middle to cut UCI's lead to two at 5-3. That would be all for Morales as the Anteaters handed the ball to Matt Fielding, who induced a bouncer to second to halt the rally.
UCI capitalized on a leadoff walk in the sixth as Sparks drove in his third run of the day with a two-out hit to center to drive in Ryan Cooper for a 6-3 'Eater lead.
Nebraska answered with a run in the sixth, putting runners on first and third with one out. Fielding gave way to Kyle Davis, who induced a run-scoring bouncer to first and then passed the ball to Litchfield, who ended the inning with a fly-ball out to right.
The 'Eaters stretched the lead to three again in the seventh. Castro sparked the two-out rally with a hard single to right and took third on Cooper's flare to right-center. Mikey Duarte sent an 0-1 pitch through the right side to drive in Cooper as UCI led 7-4 and that would be the difference in the game.
Litchfield was credited with the win to improve to 2-0. Morales logged his shortest start of the year at 4.2 innings and allowed three runs on two hits while striking out three and walking four.
Sparks posted three RBI on two hits while Rabago, Spencer and McClanahan each had a pair of hits.
Kubat dropped to 0-1 after giving up three runs on four hits in three innings.