The Anteaters (9-2) blew a 3-0 lead, but rallied with four runs in the ninth inning to take both games of Saturday’s double dip. Pinpoint lefty Matt Whitehouse pitched a three-hit complete game in the first game.
Taylor provided the offensive support in the first game as well. He hit a two-run triple into the left-centerfield gap in the third inning. Ronnie Shaeffer singled home Taylor two batters later. It was all the support Whitehouse needed.
The Game Changer:
To succeed in baseball, you have to learn from your mistakes because you are going to fail. For hitters, that’s even more true since they fail 50 to 80 percent of the time. UC Irvine showed their ability to learn on Saturday.
Friday night Portland closer Billy Sahlinger shut down the Anteaters offense. He pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing only two hits to record the save. on Sahlinger to shut the door once again with Portland holding on to a 7-4 lead.
Sahlinger entered with no outs and a runner on first base. He would face four batters and retire none of them. Chris Rabago walked. Pinch hitter Jordan Morrison bounced one through the right side for an RBI single. Ryan Cooper laid down a pretty bunt that Sahlinger bobbled, allowing everyone to be safe. With the bases loaded, Jeff Stephens sent Sahlinger’s first offering deep into the left-centerfield gap.
Caleb Whalen quickly cutoff Stephens’ drive and relayed the ball back into the winning run from scoring, but it just delayed the inevitable. With an open base, Portland had the option to intentionally walk Taylor to set up a force out at home. Sperry chose to go after Taylor rather than take his chances with Connor Spencer.
He chose wrong. Taylor hit a ball deep into left field for a game-winning single.
What was the difference between Friday and Saturday against Sahlinger? According the Taylor, it was learning from Friday night’s mistakes. Taylor said Sahlinger attacked the hitters the same exact way, using a lot of breaking balls to get ahead.
Even though he fell behind 1-2, Taylor said he thought Sahlinger would try to sneak a fastball by him. When Sahlinger did exactly that, Taylor pounced on the pitch and hit it deep into left field to score the winning run.
UC Irvine hero Dominique Taylor talks about his game-winning hit and what he saw from Sahlinger.
Anteaters head coach Mike Gillespie discusses his team’s resiliency and the silver lining from last year’s injury-plagued season:
Sophomore Matt Whitehouse on his complete game three-hitter and being back on the field after missing nearly all of last season:
- Matt McCallister – 5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K
- Caleb Whalen – 1-for-3, BB
- Matt Whitehouse – 9 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 5 K
- Dominique Taylor – 1-for-4, R, 3B, 2 RBI
- Ronnie Shaeffer – 2-for-4, RBI
- Connor Spencer – 2-for-3, HBP
- Cody Lenahan – 3-for-4, 2 R, 2B, RBI, BB
- Caleb Whalen – 2-for-4, R, 3B, 2 RBI, SB
- Ben Grubb – 2-for-3, R, 3B, BB, SB
- Jeff Stephens – 3-for-5, R, 2 2B, 2 RBI
- Dominique Taylor – 2-for-4, 2 RBI (GW RBI)
- Ryan Cooper – 2-for-2, 2 R, 2 SH
The Bottom Line:
UC Irvine showed all the aspects of why it can be a dangerous team this season. As always, the ‘Eaters have tremendous pitching at the front of the rotation. Andrew Thurman and Matt Whitehouse are going to to give them a chance to win every time out.
Kyle Hooper got roughed up in the sixth inning of his start, but he also showed for five innings that he can shut a team down. This is also a guy that allowed only one earned run in 26 1/3 innings last season before his season was cut short with a fractured elbow.
And what happened when Hooper faltered? The offense picked him up, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to get the walk-off victory. In classic Mike Gillespie/Anteater style, the offense is going to make the most of the opportunities it is presented. For example, the half inning immediately after Portland took a 4-3 lead, Kris Paulino singled with two outs. He then stole second and came around to score on a Chris Rabago RBI single. Two hits to manufacture a run to tie the score up.
Traditionally, pitching is ahead of hitting at the beginning of the season, but the Irvine offense has been crushing the ball so far this year. The ‘Eaters have averaged 6.5 runs per game, despite only scoring 13 so far in the Portland series. But the fact that they can manufacture runs when needed shows the team’s multi-faceted strengths.
Both the pitching and the offense has been helped by the return of players, like Shaeffer, Whitehouse and Hooper, whose seasons were cut short due to injury. Gillepsie called it the “silver lining” of last season’s injury-riddled season.
While injuries kept some players on campus an extra year, the Anteaters had to replace Jordan Fox in the middle of the lineup and defensive stalwart DJ Crumlich at shortstop. Chris Rabago has filled in better than Gillespie expected for Crumlich. He’s making all the routine plays while adding in a couple of spectacular plays as well.
To replace Fox’s consistent bat, the Eaters have relied on Shaeffer and Connor Spencer to drive in runs. Then there has been the addition of Dominique Taylor. Taylor has done a little bit of everything. Batting in the two-hole behind Jeff Stephens on Saturday, Taylor drove in four runs. He brings speed and pop to the top of the lineup and he’s played a stellar centerfield, replacing Christian Ramirez.
Portland is trying to replace Owen Jones and his 16 saves at the end of the game last season after he was drafted by the Dodgers in the 19th round. While Sahlinger looked the part on Friday, he came up short on Saturday.
Travis Radke was phenomenal in shutting down the Anteaters Friday night, but he’s the only returning starter from last season. He’ll need some help if the Pilots want to turn around their 3-9 record. Neither Zach Torson (0-3) or Kurt Yinger (0-1) was particularly effective on Saturday.
The Pilots have some capable bats in the middle of the lineup led by the sweet swinging Cody Lenahan, who had three hits from the left side in the second game of the doubleheader. Beau Fraser, Caleb Whalen and Jeff Melby have the capabilities, but how much will Portland hit after a woeful .239 team average last season.