IRVINE, Calif. — UC Davis closer Max Cordy had already unleashed a wild pitch while attempting to intentionally walk a batter, so UC Irvine couldn’t risk trying a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the ninth inning. Instead, with runners on the corners, pinch hitter Ryan Cooper was called on to put down a safety squeeze.
But Cooper laid down a great bunt and pinch runner Justin Castro got a great read. Castro sprinted down the line and slid into UC Davis catcher Izaak Silva, who blocked the plate expertly. However, Castro was able to slip his foot through the five-hole and tapped the corner of home plate with his tippy toe to give Irvine a 5-4 walk-off win Friday night at Anteater Ballpark.
Castro ran for Jerry McClanahan at first base after McClanahan drew a leadoff walk. Castro moved to second on a Scott Gottschling sacrifice bunt and advanced to third on Cordy’s intentional walk throw that went over the head of Silva and all the way to the backstop. After Kris Paulino’s intentional pass was completed, Cooper was sent to the plate to pinch hit despite not having a hit since March 8 (0-for-24).
Cooper still doesn’t have a hit, but he does have a walk-off game-winner to his credit.
Irvine (26-12, 8-5) took an early two-run lead in the bottom of the first inning as Taylor Sparks singled home Chris Rabago. Sparks then stole second base and came in to score on Ronnie Shaeffer’s RBI single.
But UC Davis (15-24, 3-10) quickly responded. First baseman Nick Lynch started his perfect day (3-for-3, R, 2B, RBI, BB, HBP) with a double to right field and scored on the very next pitch when John Williams also doubled. The Aggies scored a pair of two-out runs in the next inning, but not without a little controversy.
With two outs and no one on, Mike Mazzara blooped a single into right field. On the next pitch, Paul Politi tattooed a pitch into the left-centerfield gap. Mazzarra raced around the bases and headed for home, but a one-hop relay throw from Rabago beat him to the plate by at least 15 feet. Shaeffer caught the ball a step behind the plate and lunged forward to tag Mazzara as he slid home. Mazzara appeared to be hosed, but home plate umpire John Bullock said Mazzara slid in under the tag, drawing the ire of Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie, who immediately sprint-jogged out of the dugout to argue. After Gillespie’s arguments went unanswered, an error allowed Politi to score.
The ‘Eaters manufactured a run in the fourth inning after McClanahan led off with a double. But UC Davis retook the lead the next half inning with another two-out run. The Aggies hit a pair of line drives that outfielders Dominique Taylor and Gottschling made diving attempts on, but both came up short as the ball bounced into their gloves each time. Lynch then hit a hard grounder that went under the glove of a diving Taylor Sparks at third base that brought in Politi.
Sparks provided the answer, however. In the bottom of the sixth inning, he worked a 2-1 count and then hammered a fastball on the inner half for a long homer over the left field fence.
UC Davis threatened with two outs in each of the final three frames, but couldn’t push a run across. The Aggies loaded the bases against Thurman in the seventh, but Irvine’s ace was able to get a groundout to end the threat. He allowed a runner to get to third base the next inning, but lefty reliever Jimmy Litchfield came on and closed out the inning with a groundout to first base.
In the ninth, Mitch Merten walked two batters but struck out Williams to end the inning and set the Anteaters up for Cooper’s dramatics.
Sparks finished with two hits, two runs and two RBI. Rabago and Spencer also had multi-hit performances for Irvine. Lynch led UC Davis, reaching base in all five plate appearances. Politi had two hits, two runs, an RBI and walked once.
Check out the 22-shot photo gallery from Friday night’s action on Cicerone Field: