UC Irvine did exactly that — over and over and over again — in Tuesday night’s 10-5 win against San Diego State at Anteater Ballpark. Every time the Aztecs (18-21) overthrew a cutoff man or unsuccessfully tried to get a lead runner, Irvine (19-14) took advantage.
“That’s a game I think we could have won if we execute,” San Diego State head coach Tony Gwynn said. ”We pitched horribly. We didn’t execute very well. We didn’t play good defense. We made a couple of mental mistakes that ended up costing us three runs. You’re just not going to win games like that at the college level.”
In total, San Diego State gave the Anteaters 19 free bases:
- 1 on a throwing error
- 1 on a squeeze bunt
- 2 on fielding errors
- 2 on hit by pitches
- 2 on a passed ball
- 6 on base on balls
- and a whopping 5 on throw advances
In the fifth inning, on three consecutive plays Irvine advanced an extra base on throws. Jordan Fox went to second base on a line drive single when Greg Allen’s throw to the plate wasn’t cut off despite D.J. Crumlich stopping at third base. Connor Spencer followed with a two-run single to right field and advanced to second when Allen’s attempt to gun down Fox was up the third base line. Kris Paulino then singled up the middle to make it 4-0 and, again, took second on the throw.
After San Diego State cut the lead to 4-2, Irvine took advantage of more free bases. Tommy Reyes singled off the third baseman’s glove to score Chris Rabago, who walked and moved to second on a Taylor Sparks’ walk. On his single, Reyes took second when shortstop Matt Munoz’s throw to third base to try to get Sparks was way off the mark. The Aztecs escaped any more damage, but not before hitting Fox for another free base.
As is has done several times this season, San Diego State did battle back. The Aztecs scored a run in the seventh inning and another in the eighth to trim Irvine’s lead to 5-4. But the Anteaters busted the game open with a five-run eighth inning that was highlighted by two walks, an error, another advance on a throw and Fox’s TWO-RUN squeeze bunt with the infield drawn in.
Irvine rolled the dice with the squeeze play, leading 6-4 at the time. Fox handled a tough pitch neck-high and inside, knocking it past the pitcher. Though Gwynn said his team talked about the play on the team bus earlier in the day, second baseman Tim Zier threw to first late. He was unable to get Fox as was Ryan Muno’s subsequent throw home to try to nab Reyes, who never slowed coming around third base after running from second on the pitch.
The play was a direct juxtaposition to San Diego State’s offensive execution. The Aztecs failed on multiple occasions to produce sacrifice bunts. With runners on first and second trailing 5-2 in the seventh inning, they even had a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play. After Munoz had failed to sacrifice bunt on strikes one and two, he swung at what would have been ball four. Instead of having the bases loaded with no outs, there were two outs and only a runner at second base. Fitting of its missed opportunities, the next two batters reached base. Rather than a potentially big inning, the Aztecs managed a single run.
What did Gwynn have to tell his team after the game?
“You chew on them a little bit. You let them know it’s unacceptable,” Gwynn said. “Those are mental mistakes. Those aren’t physical mistakes. You can live with the physical mistakes, but constantly making mental mistakes kind of grates at you a little bit, so I let them know after the game.”
Crosby Slaught (4-3) started for Irvine on two days rest after throwing 54 pitches in his start against Cal State Fullerton Saturday. Slaught pitched three scoreless innings (after lasting only 1 2/3 innings Saturday) to collect the win. He allowed only one hit and one walk.
Offensively, the ‘Eaters knocked 13 hits, including three apiece from seniors Reyes and Fox. Both batters also recorded two RBI. Spencer finished with two hits and three RBI.
Both teams now prepare for crucial conference series. Irvine will take on Orange County rival Long Beach State in Big West action while San Diego State will host Mountain West conference leader TCU. The Aztecs currently trail the Horned Frogs by two games.
Check out the full photo gallery from Tuesday afternoon’s UC Irvine/San Diego State matchup below: