IRVINE — Perhaps it was a case of retrospective remorse. For, one day after it stole home in a 7-1 victory over visiting Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the UC Irvine baseball team appeared intent on giving back.
In any event, three UCI errors led to a pair of unearned runs in a 4-3 setback on Saturday that evened the crucial Big West Conference series at one game apiece.
A bobbled bunt in the first inning helped the Mustangs (33-15, 12-8 in conference) plate an unearned run in a two-run rally. In the top of the sixth, the visitors benefited from two throwing errors to push across another unearned run in a two-run rally that proved to be just enough.
UCI (30-16, 12-8) rallied for three runs in the sixth, and left the bases loaded in the eighth to fall short and fall back into a tie for third place with the Mustangs and UC Santa Barbara, which beat second-place Cal State Northridge on Saturday for the second day in a row.
UCI Coach Mike Gillespie has said his team needs to finish in the top three in conference to have a chance at an NCAA Regional berth, which makes Sunday's rubber game a pivotal contest for the Anteaters, ranked No. 23 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Assn. and by USA Today/ESPN.
Cal Poly is ranked No. 22 by the baseball writers and Collegiate Baseball, and is No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN poll. According to Boyd's World, a website that calculates RPI, Cal Poly has an RPI of 37, followed by UCSB (64), UCI (71) and Cal State Northridge (77).
The defensive miscues Saturday give UCI eight errors in its last four games, three of which have been losses. In its lone win during that stretch — on Friday — the 'Eaters, who once led the country in fielding percentage, did not have an error.
"We were teasing ourselves for a long time, maybe 25 or 28 games, when we were playing this lights-out defense," said Gillespie, whose team entered the week ranked fifth nationally with a .981 fielding percentage (now .980). "These [Saturday errors] were not your traditional kick-it, or throw-it-away things. But it's on the short list of cardinal sins at all levels of baseball to not get an out on a bunt. So, that's a killer."
Twice UCI botched sacrifice bunt attempts by the Mustangs, once when first baseman Connor Spencer bobbled and did not throw to first base and again in the second when Whitehouse, charging off the mound toward a bunt along the first-base line, failed to pick it up while lunging in an attempt to stab it with his glove and tag the runner as he passed. The second bunt was ruled a hit and did not factor in the scoring.
Whitehouse, for the second time in two starts, threw a pickoff throw wide to first with two outs in the Cal Poly sixth inning. And while that miscue did not prove costly, a throwing error by right fielder Scott Gottschling, who launched a throw high over Spencer at first while trying to throw behind a runner that had just singled, allowed Brian Mundell to score from third for what proved to be the winning run.
The 'Eaters who broke up starter Matt Imhof's perfect game with a two-out single by Spencer in the fourth inning, had just two runners reach first through five innings against the sophomore left-hander. But, with one out in the sixth, Dominique Taylor singled and stole second, before Spencer walked.
Sophomore third baseman Taylor Sparks, the hottest hitter in the Big West during conference play, then lined a double off the left-field fence to drive in one run and put men on second and third.
Senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer followed with a two-run single to pull the hosts within one.
Taylor's one-out single in the eighth started a threat. After he went to second on a groundout, Cal Poly Coach Larry Lee elected to intentionally walk Sparks. Reliever Reed Reilly then walked Shaeffer to load the bases, before Gottschling popped up to the second baseman to end the rally.
Reilly worked a perfect ninth to earn his 14th save and preserve Imhof's fifth win in eight decisions.
Whitehouse, who allowed just two earned runs on six hits in six innings, took the loss and fell to 4-6. Whitehouse struck out five and did not issue a walk.
Junior Kyle Hooper worked three scoreless innings of one-hit relief, fanning two with no walks.
The loss was UCI's fifth in seven chances in the second game of a three-game conference series.
Gillespie said the Saturday futility will prompt a change next week, when Sunday starter Andrew Morales, who enters Sunday's start with a 9-0 record, will start on Saturday at Cal State Fullerton, leaving Whitehouse to start Sunday.
UCI's Nos. 2-5 hitters were a combined five for 13 Saturday, but the rest of the lineup was hitless in 19 at-bats.
Mundell went two for four with two runs batted in to pace the visitors' seven-hit attack.
Big West Conference
Cal Poly SLO 4, UC Irvine 3
SCORE BY INNINGS
CPSLO 200 002 000 – 4 7 1
UCI 000 003 000 – 3 5 3
Imhof, Reilly (8) and Stewart, Hoo (9); Whitehouse, Hooper (7) and Shaeffer. W – Imhof, 5-3. L – Whitehouse, 4-6. Sv – Reilly (14). 2B – Chavez (CPSLO), Mundell (CPSLO), Sparks (UCI).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun