IRVINE — Pinch-hitter Dillon Bell drove a 3-1 pitch past a diving Devin Lohman and into left field to score Casey Stevenson as fifth-ranked UC Irvine outlasted Long Beach State, 3-2, in 12 innings on a cold night at Anteater Ballpark.
Long Beach State had plenty of chances to win but it was the mistakes in the field that ultimately cost them in a rare Thursday night series opener due to Easter Sunday.
It was the third straight one-run loss for LBSU (14-15, 2-2 Big West Conference) after they won a season-high seven in a row to climb over the .500 mark for the first time all season.
“It’s tough to know that we’ve had three straight games of one run,” head coach Mike Weathers said. “So we’re in every game now, which wasn’t the story early, but we just shoot ourselves in the foot with our mistakes.”
LBSU continually thwarted the Antearter’s efforts to win in the last four frames until the fateful 12th, as UCI (20-9, 6-1 Big West) stranded 15 runners in the contest.
But after Stevenson led off the inning with a single, left fielder Brennan Metzger overran a shallow pop fly off the bat of Francis Larson for an error — the fourth of the game by LBSU — and Bell came to the plate just in time to be the hero.
Stevenson went to third on a wild pitch — also, the fourth of the game by LBSU — and with the infielders on the edge of the grass, Bell finally ended the game after four hours and 16 minutes.
Josh Corrales (0-1) took the loss while All-American UCI closer Eric Pettis (3-1) pitched three innings in relief to earn the win.
“They’re battling hard, they’re making things happen,” a dejected Weathers said. “They’re putting themselves in a position to win and all of a sudden they do something the other team takes advantage of.”
The Dirtbags walked the leadoff man in the 10th and 11th but shut the door each time.
In the ninth, Charlie Ruiz gave up a two-out single, and after an intentional walk and two wild pitches, put runners on second and third before striking out Stevenson to end that UCI opportunity. Ruiz struck out four batters in 1 2/3 innings, giving him 28 in 16 1/3 this season.
The Dirtbags jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning but could have had more. Jonathan Jones and Jordan Casas got aboard with singles. Jones stole third and scored on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Steve Tinoco.
Jones was 3-for-5 on the night, while Casas and TJ Mittelstaedt added two hits apiece.
UCI tied it at 1 in the bottom of the third. DJ Crumlich walked with one out and Tommy Reyes sent him to second with a line drive single to right. Leadoff man Ben Orloff hit a double play ball to Derek Legg at second base, but after stepping on second, he fired a short throw to first that Tinoco couldn’t handle.
Crumlich was running on contact and came all the way around to score on the play.
LBSU got on the board again in the sixth after being held without a hit for more than four innings. With one out, Casas doubled on a pop fly to shallow left that just fell in and scored on a opposite-field triple by Lohman that landed just inside the right field line and went to the wall.
The Anteaters wasted no time tying the game at 2. Jeff Cusick led off the bottom of the sixth with a base hit and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. After a walk to Larson, Jordan Leyland singled to right.
Mittelstaedt’s throw beat Cusick to the plate but it skipped by catcher Kellen Hoime and Cusick slid in safely with the tying run.
Larson went to third on the throw and Leyland to second. The Dirtbags looked to be in a dangerous spot when pinch-hitter Sammy Donabedian was plunked to load the bases, but Crumlich lined into a 4-6 double play to end the threat and keep the game tied at 2.
LBSU got out of another bases loaded, one-out jam in the eighth with another unconventional double play. With two strikes to pinch hitter Jeff Fisher, Ruiz fooled him with a wicked breaking ball to strike him out while he was trying to bunt and pinch-runner Jordan Fox was tagged out in a rundown taking off from third in a suicide squeeze attempt.
Lost in the late innings was the tremendous pitching duel early on.
After the shaky first inning, UCI starter Daniel Bibona settled down in a big way, retiring 15 Dirtbags in a row until Casas’ double in the sixth. He went seven innings, allowing five hits and two LBSU runs while striking out five.
Dirtbags ace Adam Wilk was stellar again, also going seven innings, giving up six hits and yielding just one earned run. He had won each of his last three starts and certainly pitched well enough to earn a victory on this night.
“I thought Wilk matched Bibona — one of the better pitchers in the country — with what he has been putting up all year,” Weathers said. “I think Adam really pitched well.”
The Dirtbags and Anteaters will square off again Friday at 6 p.m.
Jake Thompson (2-4, 4.63 ERA) is scheduled to start for Long Beach while Christian Bergman (4-1, 2.64 ERA) should be on the mound for Irvine.
For more Dirtbags coverage, visit Tucker Savoye’s blog.