After the first two batters of the game struck out looking, Baylor got on the board with a two-out RBI double by senior third baseman Cal Towey. The Bears defense responded by shutting down the Anteaters in order in their half of the first. After both teams went down in order in the second, Irvine exploded in the third inning giving them all the runs they would need.
Irvine threatened in the sixth but left the bases loaded after plating one more run. Baylor’s Nathan Orf belted a three-run home run in the seventh to tighten the score 6-4. In the bottom half of the frame, an Irvine threat was wiped out by a 6-4-3 double play. Baylor tried to rally in the ninth, getting the tying run on first after UC Irvine closer Race Parmenter allowed a single and a walk. But Parmenter got Nathan Orf to ground out to end the game.
THE TURNING POINT
The third inning proved to be eventful for the Anteaters as they scored five runs on five consecutive hits after a hit-by-pitch and two walks were sandwiched around two pop-ups to start the inning. UC Irvine sent 10 hitters to the plate in the inning.
The big blow came off the bat of center fielder Dominique Taylor who belted a two-RBI double to left-centerfield. Connor Spencer, Taylor Sparks and Ronnie Shaeffer each added RBI base hits in the inning. The offensive barrage gave Irvine ace Andrew Thurman a 5-1 lead heading into the fourth inning. Thurman gave up more than five runs only once in fifteen starts last season.
“He’s very important to us. He’s a big, physical guy with some tools. He runs well, has a good arm and can hit. We’re going to need him to hit for us. We expect him to hit.”
UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie on junior centerfielder Dominique Taylor.
“He scuffled a little with his command, but he made the pitches when he needed to. He grinded it out on the mound and found a way on a night when he wasn’t at his best.”
UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie on junior pitcher Andrew Thurman.
“It felt great. I just love being around such a great group of guys like the ones on this team. I couldn’t wait to get out there tonight. It felt great to get that hit (two RBI double) in the third inning.”
Junior centerfielder, Dominique Taylor on his first game for UC Irvine after transferring from Salt Lake CC.
“We have a lot of talent and we’ve put some lofty expectations upon ourselves. We believe we can go all the way.”
Junior starting pitcher Andrew Thurman on how far team can go this season.
I spoke with one NL scout who said he’s been following Thurman since his days at Orange Lutheran High School.
“I’ve been impressed with him since high school; he’s a bulldog on the mound. He’s added velocity to his fastball every year since he’s been here and the slider looked like an out pitch tonight. It (slider) has a lot of depth to it and confuses hitters because he disguises it well. He commands the fastball extremely well.
His curveball has always had good break and it continues to be a go-to pitch. If he continues to pitch like he did this summer in the Cape Cod League, I could easily see him jumping up in the draft. I don’t think he’s a frontline guy like, say, Gerrit Cole, but he’s a very serviceable pitcher who could be a #4 or #5 guy at best and at worst a set-up man.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Baylor is replacing five everyday starters (combined 241 starts) and three starting pitchers (combined 27 wins). They may be in for a long season in the always-competitive Big XII. Ryan Smith got the Opening Night start and lasted only 2.2 innings while allowing five runs, walking three, and striking out one.
The offense scattered nine hits on the night with the big one coming in the seventh on a three-run home run by senior Nathan Orf. Senior Cal Towey also had a two-out RBI double. Baylor showed some resiliency. It made Thurman throw a lot pitches and eventually chased him in the sixth inning. Then late in the game by putting the tying run on base, but this team has limitations in its pitching staff which could spell doom this season.
For UCI, this season could signal a return to the national scene. Thurman gives them a bonafide collegiate ace. Matt Whitehouse returns after missing last season due to injury. In 2011, Whitehouse went 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA. Coaches believe he’s stronger now than he was in 2011, which would give UC Irvine a formidable 1-2 punch to start their weekend series.
The Anteaters have a great blend of experience and youth with key reserves expected to play a big role this season. Centerfielder Dominique Taylor, a transfer from Salt Lake CC, and first baseman Connor Spencer, give UC Irvine some added pop in the middle of the order.
UC Irvine leads the series 7-3, having won all four at home and three at Baylor. The Anteaters three losses in the series all came on the road in Waco, Texas.
Baylor, picked to finish fourth in the Big XII, came into the game ranked 27th by the NCBWA.
Irvine, picked to finish second in the Big West, was ranked 33rd by the NCBWA.
The two teams will resume the series on Saturday at Anteater Ballpark at 1:00pm PST.