PROVO, Utah –No. 21 UC Irvine avoided a sweep with an 8-3 victory Saturday over BYU at Larry H. Miller Field.
The nation’s No. 4 pitcher Andrew Morales (5-0) and his relief, held the BYU bats in check in front of 1,146 fans. The Cougars (9-7) recorded six hits on the afternoon and the Anteaters (12-4) peppered the home team with 11 hits.
“I felt like we were playing catch up the whole game,” BYU head coach Mike Littlewood said. “We came out a bit complacent, I didn’t like that. Really good teams don’t come out with that mentality.”
UCI jumped out to an early lead in the opening frame when Connor Spencer lined a double to right-center to score Dominique Taylor from first. Ronnie Shaeffer singled to left to score Spencer and gave the Anteaters a 2-0 advantage.
Center-fielder Jaycob Brugman ripped a ball over the right fielder’s head for a stand-up double in the bottom of the second for BYU. Brock Whitney moved him one step closer to home on a grounder to second and Kelton Caldwell sent him home on a sacrifice fly to deep right to bring the Cougars within a run at 2-1.
The Anteaters capitalized on a pair of Cougar errors and a two-run homerun by Shaeffer to extend the lead, 6-1 in the third inning.
With UCI threatening in the fifth, freshman Keaton Cenatiempo saw his fourth action of the season in relief of Mark Anderson and got out of a bases-loaded jam by getting Ryan Cooper to pop up to Whitney to end the inning.
“We had a shaky start but we turned it on there in the last couple of innings,” Cenatiempo said. “This was the biggest crowd I’ve pitched in front of and it boosted me a lot. I hope I gave coach (Littlewood) a good impression.”
In the sixth and seventh innings, the Anteaters added one run in each to increase their lead to 8-1.
Morales was relieved by Evan Brock after the Cougars juiced the bases in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitter Bret Lopez hit a sac-fly to right to plate Brugman from third and bring the score to 8-2.
“We didn’t quit,” Littlewood said. “We chased Morales and tried to get to their bullpen. He bent a little bit, but he didn’t break.”
Jacob Hannemann recorded his second hit of the game on a single to left and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Brennon Anderson snuck a single under the shortstop’s glove to advance Hannemann to third. Adam Law reached on a fielder’s choice to score Hannemann and narrow the margin to 8-3.
In the ninth, back-up catcher Collin Braithwaite recorded his first career hit in a stand-up triple to the right-center wall.
“It was another confidence builder for us,” Littlewood said. “I consider these guys a great team. I want to tip my hat to Brian Hill; he’s done a great job of getting the field ready for us to play this weekend.”
The Cougars travel to open the conference season next week for a three-game series against San Diego starting Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m. PDT. Game two will be Friday night at 6 p.m. PDT and game three will be Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT. All three games will be broadcast locally over KOVO 960 AM and on BYU Radio.