CORVALLIS, Ore. – Things couldn’t have started much better for UNLV in its first NCAA Tournament baseball game in nine years on Friday afternoon.
The Rebels had jumped to a 2-0 lead on a two-run second inning homer by first baseman Patrick Armstrong, while starter John Richy looked sharp early, striking out three of the first six batters he faced during two scoreless innings.
But UC Irvine (36-22), which had scored just nine runs total in six consecutive losses entering the contest, exploded for 10 runs over the final seven innings to pull out a 10-3 victory in the opening round of the Corvallis Regional at Goss Stadium.
UNLV (35-24) will play North Dakota State (25-25), a 2-1 loser to No. 1 overall seed Oregon State (43-12) later Friday night, in an elimination game on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN3.
“You just come out and keep playing,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. “They’re trying as hard as they can. They’ll come out and play hard.”
“We know what’s at stake,” added Armstrong. “We’re not a team to give up. Everyone has fight in them.”
By dropping its opener, UNLV now must win four games in three days to win the regional and advance to the Super Regionals. Chambers said right-hander Bryan Bonnell (6-5, 3.01) would start Saturday’s contest.
“We know we have to fight and we know we have to take the long road,” Armstrong said. “We still have a chance.”
The second-seeded Rebels, the Mountain West Conference regular season co-champion, opened the scoring in the bottom of the second on a two-run home run by Armstrong.
UCI struck back to tie it with two runs in the top of the third as Kris Paulino scored on an error and Evan Cassolato came across on a groundout by Chris Rabago.
The Anteaters then took control in the fifth inning, parlaying four hits with a walk and a hit batter into five runs to go ahead 7-2. First baseman Connor Spencer had the big blow, a two-run double down the left-field line, and catcher Jerry McClanahan followed with a two-run single.
“It was a combination, as everyone in this room saw, of some big hits and a lot of opportunities,” Anteaters coach Mike Gillespie said.
That was more than enough for UCI senior right-hander Andrew Morales. The 2014 Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year struck out four in seven innings of work to improve to 10-2 on the season. Morales and two Irvine relievers managed to hold the final 22 UNLV batters without a hit.
Richy (11-4) took the loss after allowing nine runs, eight of which were earned, on nine hits in 7 2/3 innings of work. He also hit three batters and walked one.
“I made some mistakes and they capitalized on it,” Richy said. “I gave up way too many free bags, they had guys on, and I missed the big part of the strike zone. They’re good hitters and that’s what you expect from them.”
UC Irvine, which finished third in a loaded Big West Conference, faces Oregon State (43-12) in a winners bracket game Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. The loser of that contest and the winner of the UNLV-North Dakota State game meet Sunday at 2 p.m. in another elimination game.