IRVINE — The agony extended into finality at Anteater Ballpark on Saturday, as host UC Irvine ended its baseball season with a typically excruciating 3-2 loss to Long Beach State.
The setback turned in the top of the ninth inning, when the winning run was produced on a triple from junior outfielder Colby Brenner, who entered the game — as a defensive replacement in the eighth — hitting .154 with three extra-base hits in 104 at-bats.
It was the eighth loss in 16 one-run games this season for UCI (33-22, 15-12 in the Big West Conference), which also lost half of its 14 two-run verdicts, prompting a depth of disappointment that 72-year-old coach Mike Gillespie said was unprecedented in a Hall of Fame coaching career that has spanned five decades.
"For me personally, I don't remember in all the time I've been doing this, a year as frustrating as this," Gillespie said. "Agonizing is the right word, because it has been a year of these [type of games]. I had to go torture myself today [before the game] and review the season game-by-game. Most importantly, it has particularly been the games in conference. That will haunt me forever."
Saturday was another failure by the bullpen, as junior Evan Brock allowed the winning run on two hits in his one inning in relief of junior starter Andrew Morales. Morales, who finishes his first Division I season 10-0, allowed eight hits and two earned runs in eight innings. He struck out nine, walked none and threw 72 of his 101 pitches for strikes. His 2013 earned–run average is 1.89.
Long Beach (29-27, 15-12) opened the scoring with a two-out solo home run in the first by Juan Avila, his second of the season.
UCI sophomore first baseman Connor Spencer, who finished with a conference-leading .373 batting average, produced the first of his two doubles not long after performing a strong vocal rendition of the National Anthem.
Sophomore third baseman Taylor Sparks followed with a single to left to tie the score and bring his season total to 50 runs batted in.
UCI loaded the bases in the second on a walk, hit batter and infield single by Grant Palmer, allowing junior center fielder Dominique Taylor to drive in the go-ahead run when he was hit by a pitch.
But a line drive caught by Dirtbags' starting pitcher David Hill ended the threat and left the bases loaded.
An infield single by senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer in the eighth helped spark a rally that began with a one-out walk to Sparks. But a flyout and a pop to shortstop ended the threat.
UCI, which appeared in an NCAA Regional in six of seven seasons from 2005 to 2011, but will now extend its postseason drought to two years, went in order in the ninth against Long Beach State closer Jon Maciel, who entered in the eighth and earned the victory.
Sparks finished his 27 Big West games hitting .422 (46 for 109) with seven of his conference-leading 10 homers and 32 RBIs against conference foes.
UCI finishes in a three-way tie for fourth place with Long Beach and Cal State Northridge. First-place Cal State Fullerton figures to be joined in the postseason by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and possibly UC Santa Barbara, which tied Cal Poly for second.
UCI says goodbye to seniors Shaeffer, Jeff Stephens, Scott Gottschling and Race Parmenter, as well as redshirt junior Matt Whitehouse, who plans to graduate.
Big West Conference
Long Beach State 3, UC Irvine 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
LBSU 100 000 101 – 3 10 0
UCI 110 000 000 – 2 5 0
Hill, Millison (5), Maciel (8) and Hutting; Morales, Brock (9) and Shaeffer. W – Maciel, 3-5. L – Brock, 2-1. 2B – Spencer (UCI) 2, Patron. 3B – Brenner (LBSU). HR – Avila (LBSU).Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun