UC-Irvine, discounted by most after dropping their last 6 games of the season, have rolled into Corvallis and decimated the competition so far. The Anteaters followed up their regional opening 10-3 come from behind and pull away win over UNLV with a dismantling of #1 National Seed Oregon St. unlike anything that has happened to the Beavers in years.
The Anteaters beat up the Beavers in both the small ball and big ball categories. Irvine got a rare 2 RBI sacrifice bunt, by their cleanup hitter no less, one of 8 successful sacrifices they executed. They also got a pair of home runs, one a grand slam. Irvine averaged just over 4 runs this season, but more than tripled that against the best pitching staff an defense in the Pac-12.
Meanwhile, Oregon St., which hasn't scored 4 runs in a game since May 13, elevated inept offense to an art form, with special emphasis on watching 3rd strikes sail by, something they did an astonishing 5 times.
The game was a pitchers' duel early, with Oregon St. All-American and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Jace Fry taking on UC-Irvine's Elliott Surrey, who was totally comfortable in the familiar confines of Goss Stadium, having been a key cog in the Corvallis Knight's run to the West Coast League Championship last summer.
And it was a scoreless affair until the bottom of the 4th, when Connor Spencer led off with a double, moved up on a sacrifice, and scored when Fry fired a wild pitch.
It was just the beginning for Spencer, who would go on to a 3 hit (with 2 doubles), 3 run scored, 2 RBI night, and the beginning of the end for Fry.
The Anteaters added 3 more in the 5th, after, with 1 out, Justin Castro doubled down the right field line, and moved to third on Taylor Sparks' single that hit the third base umpire. That appeared to save a run, but only briefly, as Castro scored on Chris Rabaco's bunt, and Fry's throw to catcher Logan Ice was too late.
Fry then hit Spencer with a pitch to load the bases, setting up the 2 RBI sacrifice bunt by Irvine cleanup hitter Jerry McClanahan.
Things were far from over though, but the 7th & 8th innings were yet to come.
Oregon St., practically punchless all weekend, took futility to a new level n the top of the 7th (the Beavers were the designated visitor in their own ballpark in the inexplicable ways of the NCAA), when both Gabe Clark and Kavin Keyes took called 3rd strikes to end the at bat.
Sparks had no such uncertainty at the plate, as the Anteater lead off hitter, who co-leads the team in home runs, led off the bottom of the 7th with a solo homer to left to make it 5-0 Irvine. It was Sparks' 5 round trip of the season.
A fly out later, Spencer doubled again, this time down the left field line, went to third on McClanahan's single, and scored on Renae Martinez's sacrifice fly to make it 6-0.
Irvine didn't score again in the inning, but they did chase Fry, who had his worst outing of the season, despite allowing just 6 hits, with Brandon Jackson taking over.
It looked like Oregon St. would rally right back into the game in the top of the 8th though.
Ice led off with a single, and advanced to second on an error, and Caleb Hamilton drew a walk to get things going, and end the evening for Surey.
The Anteater's All-American closer Sam Moore couldn't get the job done, as pinch hitter Michael Howard advanced both runners into scoring position, and Jeff Hendrix drove both of them in with a 2 RBI single to right center.
Andy Peterson singled, and Michael Conforto, who was not only 0-3 for the game, and 0-7 for the Regional, not to mention being mired in a 9-57 slump, drew a 5 pitch walk to load the bases.
That got rid of Moore, who was lifted for Mitch Merten, and also brought Dylan Davis, the Pac-12 leader in RBIs, who had won Friday night's game over North Dakota St. with a solo home run for the 2-1 margin to the plate, in position to tie the game with a single swing of the bat.
Instead, Davis popped up, and Clark looked at a called 3rd strike for the 3rd time of the night.
"What Merten did when he came in, that was really big for us," UC-Irvine coach Mike Gillespie understated.
Irvine then blew the game completely out of the water, and sent the crowd of 3,422 away early.
After loading the bases, which ended Jackson's night, and brought Zach Reser in, Spencer struck again, with a 2 RBI single.
That was just the beginning of the big inning though.
The Anteaters reloaded the bases, then extended their lead to 9-2 on another successful sacrifice, and to 10-2 on an RBI single, which ended the evening for the ineffective Reser.
Oregon St. pitching coach Nate Yeski turned to Phil Belding, who issued a full count walk, and then served up the grand slam ball to Kris Paulino that made it 14-2. It was also Paulino;s 5th homer of the season.
The game was as far out sight at that point as most of Beaver Nation, who had long since given up, but the end of the game was nonetheless typical of how well UC-Irvine played all night, and how inept Oregon St. was on the evening.
Keyes led off with a single, but Ice grounded into an around the horn double play. Hamilton then doubled, but, fittingly, Jerad Casper struck out to end the game, the 10th strikeout of the game.
"They executed and we didn't," coach Pat Casey said after the worst postseason loss of his 20-year Oregon St. career.
Casey's entire post-game lack of an explanation took about a minute.
Surrey struck out 8, and got the win to improve to 7-4 for the season, and elevate Irvine to 37-22.
Fry took the loss, just his second of the season, and dropped to 11-2 for the season.
Oregon St. dropped to 43-13, and also saw their 13-0 streak at Goss in Regional games under the modern format of the NCAA Tournament come to an end, in a game in which they were as unprepared for what they encountered as any contest in years.
The Beavers will return to action Sunday afternoon at 2 PM, in an elimination game against UNLV. The Rebels stayed alive by beating North Dakota St. 2-1 Saturday afternoon to send the Bison home to Fargo.
Oregon St. will, as they have several times in the last couple of seasons, turn to All-American senior LHP Ben Wetzler (11-1), who leads all starters in the country in ERA, at 0.76.
Sunday afternoon's winner will face UC-Irvine Sunday evening at 8 PM, and need to beat the Anteaters in order to earn a rematch Monday evening at the same time that would decide the regional.
Should it be the Beavers that prevail in the afternoon, senior Scott Schultz (6-2, 1.88 ERA) would likely get the Sunday evening start, assuming Schultz, who is also Oregon St.'s best reliever isn't needed for extended work just to get past the Rebels.