OMAHA, Neb. --- A three-run eighth inning and clutch relief pitching propelled UC Irvine past Texas, 3-1, in the opening game of the 2014 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha Saturday.
Junior third baseman Taylor Sparks went 3 for 4, including a double and triple, and senior right-hander Evan Brock retired all seven Longhorn batters he faced to earn the win in improving to 9-6.
"Taylor Sparks had a spectacular game, both on offense and defense," UCI head coach Mike Gillespie said. "So we got a hit to lead off the eighth, a good bunt, and a huge hit by Taylor, and then Chris (Rabago) came up big, makes it 2-1, another hit, then a two-strike base hit by (Jonathan) Munoz. We strung together some hits."
With the win, UCI (41-23) will face Vanderbilt Monday at 5:00 p.m. (PT) on ESPN2 and KUCI/88.9 FM.
Trailing 1-0 entering the top of the eighth inning, UCI's Adam Alcantara led off with a single to left and he advanced to second on a sacrifice by Justin Castro.
Sparks then smashed a first-pitch triple to the wall in left center scoring Alcantara with the tying run. It was Sparks' NCAA-leading ninth triple of the season.
Chris Rabago drilled a single up the middle off reliever Texas reliever John Curtiss to score Sparks as the 'Eaters took a 2-1 lead.
Connor Spencer followed with a single to left, moving Rabago to second. After Jerry McClanahan struck out, Jonathan Munoz singled to left, scoring Rabago for a 3-1 margin as Spencer was thrown out trying to advance to third.
Brock, who had recorded the final out of the seventh, retired Texas in order in the bottom of the eighth and he struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth.
"I haven't had much bullpen experience, at least this year, but definitely my adrenaline was pumping today, so I mean, it was a big game," said Brock. "I haven't been in that type of situation late in the game in a long time. I mean, it was pretty fun for me, so that definitely got the juices flowing."
Texas opened the game's scoring in the bottom of the second as Collin Shaw doubled to left off UCI starter Andrew Morales.
Shaw advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt from Madison Carter and Shaw scored on a bunt single by Zane Gurwitz.
Morales pitched the first six innings for UCI, fanning five, walking three and yielding six hits. He pitched out of several jams as the Longhorns stranded 10 base runners in the opening six frames.
Junior left-hander Evan Manarino started the seventh on the mound for UCI and recorded two outs around a hit-batter and a single before yielding to Brock, who was dominating in the last 2 1/3 innings.
Nathan Thornhill took the loss for Texas as he fell to 8-3 on the season. Thornhill gave up two runs, struck out four and walked one in 7 1/3 innings.
Shaw had two of the seven hits by the Longhorns (43-20).
Saturday was a monumental day for UC Irvine, as President Barack Obama was the featured speaker at UCI's 2014 Commencement ceremony at Angel Stadium, beginning his address at about the same time the 'Eaters and Longhorns were starting their game in Omaha.
Earlier in the day, UCI head coach Mike Gillespie was named National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. This is his first Anteater team to advance to the College World Series after winning the Corvallis Regional and Stillwater Super Regional. His UCI squad has won six of its last seven games.
This is the Anteaters' second trip to the Division I World Series and the first since 2007. With Saturday's victory, UCI is 3-2 all-time in CWS action at Omaha.