The UC Riverside baseball team (3-1, 0-0) came out on the winning end in both of a pair of exceptional games this week. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, UCR defeated UCLA, 3-2 despite the Bruins keeping the Highlanders in check for most of the game. UCLA entered the game with a team earned run average (ERA) of 1.00, and they were able to effectively contain the Highlander offense while tacking on runs in the second and sixth innings. However, the game turned on its head in the eighth inning as Bruins reliever Justin Hooper — who had struck out 10 batters over 4.1 innings up to that point — began to unravel. After striking out the first batter of the eighth, Hooper issued two consecutive one-out walks followed by a wild pitch that suddenly put UCLA in a vexatious situation. Hooper was pulled from the game immediately after throwing the pitch, but it was too late. Despite grounding out in the infield, redshirt junior shortstop Colby Schultz drove in the first Highlander run of the game to make it 3-1. The next at-bat sealed the deal for the Highlanders, as they took the lead on a game-winning two-run home run by senior centerfielder Mark Contreras. The blast was Contreras’ first of the year and already ties his 2016 season total.
The Highlanders had another thriller on Friday, Feb. 24 as it took UCR 18 innings to break through and pick up the victory against Fresno State University, 4-3. The Bulldogs established an early lead off of a sequence that started with a double by designated hitter Scott Silva that was followed by a wild pitch that put Silva on third. The next hitter — Bulldog first baseman Aaron Arruda — grounded out to second base, but it was still enough for the Bulldogs to strike first, ending the opening frame with a 1-0 lead. Once again, the Highlander offense was quiet early on, managing only one hit and two walks over the first seven innings. On the other end, Fresno State was able to pad their lead in the third inning with two more runs on three hits, carrying a three-run lead all the way into the eighth inning. But just like earlier that week, UCR’s opposition made the mistakes that it needed to for the Highlanders to crawl their way back into the contest.
After a strikeout to start the inning, Taylor Yeager — who was pinch hitting for second baseman Cody Sporrer — drew a six-pitch walk to start the Highlander rally. Yeager advanced to second base on a wild pitch, which only served to show the shaken composure of Bulldog pitcher Ryan Jensen, who proceeded to then walk Highlander third baseman Michael Farris on four pitches. After Schultz struck out swinging following a Fresno State pitching change, Contreras drew a walk which loaded the bases for designated hitter Cannon Connor. Connor didn’t disappoint, driving in two runs on an 0-2 count to decrease the deficit to 3-2.
After snuffing out an attempt by Fresno State’s Jared Akins to steal second, which shut down the Bulldog’s offense in the eighth, the Highlanders continued to roll with their offensive momentum. They rattled off three singles in a row from first baseman Aaron Cisneros and pinch hitters Ian Nowak and Cade Peters to tie the game at three with a chance to take the lead in the ninth. However, the Highlanders were not quite able to finish the job. Nowak was thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice and pinch hitter Casey Worden grounded into a double play to send the game to extras.
The extra innings began rather uneventfully, with only three base runners total from both teams reaching safely over the first five extra innings. Fresno State was the first to threaten in the extra innings, putting men on first and second in the 14th and 15th innings, but were halted by UCR both times. The Bulldogs even got men on first and third in the 17th inning with two outs, but were once again unsuccessful in picking up the win. Finally, the Highlanders were able to break through in the 18th inning that started with an error by Arruda, and followed with a sacrifice bunt from Schultz and a sacrifice fly from Contreras that put third baseman Daniel Martinez on third base with two outs. This time, it was Cannon coming through once again for UCR, singling up the right side to drive in the game winning run. The Highlanders’ Ryan Lillie struck out the side in the 18th to finish the thrilling game for the Highlanders. The save was Lillie’s second of the season.
After finishing up their three-game series with Fresno State over the weekend of Feb. 25-26, the Highlanders will travel to Las Vegas to take on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in a two-game series from Tuesday, Feb. 28 to Wednesday, Feb. 29.