IRVINE — It took the fourth game of his fifth season to finally find the cleanup spot in the UC Irvine baseball team's batting order. But Ronnie Shaeffer may just linger a while in the four hole, after helping key the Anteaters' 5-3 nonconference win over visiting Cal on Friday.
Shaeffer, a former freshman All-American who has since had his ups and downs at the plate, went three for five with the go-ahead run batted in to help No. 25-ranked UCI improve to 4-0.
Shaeffer, who redshirted last season after breaking a finger in the 11th game, entered Friday hitting .462. He lined a 1-0 pitch, on a hit-and-run play, into center field with runners at the corners to break a 3-3 deadlock in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was the only one of UCI's four RBIs that came on a base hit.
The victory, which dropped Cal to 4-2, was also the product of some quality pitching. UCI junior reliever Andrew Morales earned his second victory in as many decisions, while freshman left-hander Elliot Surrey and senior closer Race Parmenter also came up big out of the bullpen in relief of starter Andrew Thurman.
Thurman, a preseason All-American who had won eight of his last 10 decisions, dating back to last season, lost a 3-2 lead in the seventh when the Golden Bears led off the inning with a single and a triple.
Thurman, who struck out nine and allowed five hits and three runs in six innings, exited without a chance to earn his second win of the season.
But Surrey induced a soft ground ball in front of the mound and a flyout to shallow left to leave the would-be go-ahead run at third. Morales closed out the inning by striking out Cal leadoff man Derek Campbell and the hosts delivered two runs in their half of the seventh.
Gillespie, who batted Shaeffer sixth the first two games and fifth in the finale of a nonconference sweep against visiting Baylor on Sunday, said he moved Shaeffer to cleanup for a couple of reasons.
"He's the guy [in the middle of the order] who is the toughest out and the guy among that group that can handle the most pitches," Gillespie said. "He's also playing with confidence right now."
Gillespie also said a lack of production in the No. 2 spot merely prompted him to move everyone up one position after the Baylor series.
Shaeffer, who said he hit cleanup a couple games at the beginning of last season, said he is merely holding up his end as the senior member of the squad. The guy his teammates are now commonly calling "Uncle Ron," is now hitting .500 and his nine hits lead the team. He has four RBIs in 2013.
"I felt good coming in and throughout the fall," said Shaeffer, a former national collegiate Gold Glove catcher who is also being used at first base and designated hitter this season. "I think taking some time off this summer might have helped me relax and get away from the game a little bit."
Shaeffer, who hit .388 in 2009, then .318 and .264 the next two seasons, said his hot start has also fostered confidence.
"Being here so long, I've just learned to stay on top of my game and be confident in every at-bat," Shaeffer said. "Last year [when UCI missed the postseason for the first time since 2005] wasn't the way I wanted my career to end. In a way, it was almost a blessing for me to redshirt and come back this season."
Junior third baseman Taylor Sparks was three four five, while Jeff Stephens, Dominique Taylor and Jerry McClanahan also had two hits for the 'Eaters.
Morales allowed one hit and struck out three in 1 1/3 innings, while Parmenter worked a scoreless ninth for his second save.
The series resumes with a doubleheader Saturday, beginning at noon.
UC Irvine 5, Cal 3
SCORE BY INNINGS
Cal 001 010 100 – 3 6 3
UCI 001 200 20x – 5 13 1
Jones, Siomken (5), Hildenberger (6), Wertenberger (7) and Knapp; Thurman, Surrey (7), Morales (7) and Shaeffer. W – Morales, 2-0. L – Hildenberger, 1-1. Sv – Parmenter (2). 3B – Rabago (UCI), Wark (C).
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun