USD’s Austin Bailey went 3-for-4 with two RBI and came across the plate once. Photo: David Cohen/BHEphotos (@bhephotoscom).
The No. 24 University of San Diego baseball team (33-17, 15-9) was buried deep in the No. 16 UC Irvine Anteaters lead, trailing 13-2, in the sixth inning in its last home game of the season Tuesday night in a non-conference rubber match at Fowler Park. The Big West conference leaders (33-14, 13-1) held an apparently insurmountable advantage.
“You’d like to think that a 13-2 lead would be enough,” UCI Head Coach Mike Gillespie said, “And all of a sudden it seemed that it wasn’t.”
Not only was there run support on the field but verbal support from the man known far and wide in collegiate baseball from Orange County to San Diego County as “The Superfan.” His name is Keith Franklin. He’s from Costa Mesa. He knows the game of baseball. He knows and follows his favorite team for every game. And lets everyone know about it.
Keith Franklin is a very big voice for the UCI baseball team. Photo: Finkelstein
And he let everyone in the home seats of Cunningham Field know who was winning with a voice as large as the disparity of runs, hits and errors on the scoreboard. Especially tonight, since San Diego had taken the first of the two teams’ season matchups in early April. In Irvine. On the Superfan’s home turf.
But in the top of the sixth, things changed. Franklin offered a piece pipe to the frustrated Toreros fans in the stands in the form of sharing a bag of peanuts with everyone. “Baseball is my three hour vacation at every game I come to,” Franklin said.
But Franklin almost cursed the Anteaters’ eventual 16-11 win with kindness prematurely – because USD’s bats came alive for six runs in the bottom half of the very same inning and closed the gap to 13-8. With the final line totals combined, the game featured 27 runs off 34 hits (17 apiece) and five errors (all USD). It was one of the more interesting games that both coaches had all season.
“It was (pause), look, I think all coaches agree that there’s no such thing as a bad win, there’s some ugly wins, not pretty wins, but it was an important win, a good win, against a team that had a rough night,” Gillespie continued. “It looked wrapped up around the sixth inning. The numbers don’t lie about (San Diego). They can hit, they do hit, and it was kind of staggering to see them do what they did in the sixth.”
Josh Goossen-Brown gets one of his two hits on the evening. Photo: Finkelstein
Up to that point in the game, the Anteaters got a stellar performance from the hill from starter Evan Manarino (3.00) who went five innings and allowed two earned runs. The problem arose when he was relieved by Mitch Merten (7.94) in the sixth, who then gave up four runs, who was then replaced by Matt Fielding (who gave up two more runs) and was chased, until finally Jimmy Litchfield (3.78) managed to record three outs, as the Toreros closed the gap to “only” five runs.
Even though Litchfield pitched his way out of a jam and closed the sixth, and even though tonight he tied a UCI school record for most career appearances (he has 112 and is one short of the school record at 113), he came out in the seventh and got tagged for three earned runs – Louie Lechich’s leadoff single, Connor Joe’s ensuing double, and Andrew Daniel’s bases-clearing triple to the right field corner. After this cycle was over, Jesse Jenner added a sacrifice RBI fly to center, and the Toreros narrowly trailed by only two, 11-13. UCI coach Gillespie reached to Sam Moore (1.38) who holds the Anteaters’ single season saves record, and who preserved the win with his 22nd of the season.
Jimmy Litchfield is one overall appearance away from UC Irvine’s all-time record for a pitcher. Photo: David Cohen/BHEphotos (@BHEphotoscom
“It was a terrible game,” USD coach Rich Hill said. “You make five errors. They’re all mental. There were some things defensively, wild pitches, passed balls, bad calls on strikes that went for balls. Take those away and we’re in it. But talk about the positive. Coming back from being down 13-2, that’s nine unanswered runs. A lot of positive things to take away from it. Once they got their closer in there – he leads the nation. He’s got 22 saves. It was a spirited game, fans on both sides were really getting into it.”
Leading the San Diego almost-comeback was Andrew Daniel who finished 4-for-6 and has a 19 game hitting streak alive, Lechich keyed the big sixth inning with a 390 foot 2-run homer and finished 2-for-5 by adding a single, Austin Bailey turned in a 3-4 performance and Brandon DeFazio added two hits. Jesse Jenner finished 2-for-4 with three RBI.
USD coach Hill tried to solve the UCI hitting attack by using six pitchers in the contest. Starter Ryan Olson (5.97) was tagged for four runs on four hits and only lasted the first inning. Only two hurlers – CJ Burdick (2.88) and Brandon Show (6.41) went two frames each. Joey Rocha (0.00), Daniel Reitzler (3.00) and Drew Jacobs combined for three innings, but UCI added a run in the eighth and two in the ninth to seal the game that went 3:32 minutes on the clock.
Currently in second place in West Coast Conference play behind No. 22 Pepperdine University (32-13, 15-6), the Toreros travel for a crucial three game series against the Waves this Friday, Saturday and Sunday to end the regular season and possibly determine the eventual WCC regular season champion. After the series, the WCC Tournament begins May 22 in Stockton.
Despite 17 hits for both teams, the USD Toreros almost set a school record for biggest come from behind victory but fell just short. Photo: Finkelstein