IRVINE, Calif. --- UC Irvine's Connor Spencer delivered with a clutch hit in the fifth to drive in the go-ahead runs in an eventual 6-2 win over No. 24 UC Santa Barbara Friday at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark.
With the game locked at two runs apiece, John Brontsema led off the fifth with a hit to right centerfield and was sacrificed to second by Grant Palmer. Chris Rabago drew a full-count walk from starter Justin Jacome and Spencer drove a 1-1 pitch past the third-base bag for a two-run double to give UCI a 4-2 edge.
Brontsema keyed the Anteater offense in the sixth, belting a two-out triple to the left-center gap to drive in Kris Paulino and the Anteaters would cap the scoring with a run in the seventh as Jerry McClanahan singled in Rabago.
The Gauchos mounted a ninth-inning threat, putting runners on first and second with one out against reliever Mitch Merten, who had retired the final batter of the eighth and the first batter of the ninth inning. UCI went to closer Sam Moore with the tying run on deck and Cameron Newell drew a base on balls to load the bases. However, Moore rebounded by striking out Woody Woodward and then retired Maris on a groundball to first to record his Big West-tying 20th save.
The Anteaters staked starter Andrew Morales with a 2-0 lead in the second. Taylor Sparks led off the inning with a single and came around to score as Jonathan Munoz went the other way with a double to left for the RBI. Munoz would score on a two-out single by Justin Castro.
The Gauchos answered by loading the bases with two outs in the third for Tyler Kuresa, who hit a 1-2 pitch to center, scoring Cameron Newell and Peter Maris. With Joey Epperson on third representing the go-ahead run, Morales struck out Robby Nesovic to end the inning.
Epperson and Kuresa figured in the fifth, hitting a pair of consecutive two-out singles but Morales retired Nesovic and the next eight Gaucho hitters before handing the ball off to Merten and earning his eighth win.
Morales (8-0) struck out seven, walked three and held UCSB to two runs on six hits as he posted his seventh consecutive quality start.
Spencer led UCI with two runs on two hits while Brontsema drove in one run on a pair of hits. McClanahan and Munoz each added an RBI and a hit in the effort.
Jacome fell to 5-2 after yielding five runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings of work. Kuresa led the Gauchos with two runs on two hits with Newell batting 2 for 3 with a run scored.
The series continues Saturday at 1:00 p.m.