June 4, 2004
The University of Arizona, which boasts a storied history highlighted by three national titles and 14 College World Series appearances, began the process of reversing its recent postseason misfortunes by defeating second-seeded UC Irvine 7-3 Friday evening at Eck Stadium in game two of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. The Wildcats (31-24-1), seeded third in the regional, notched their first NCAA tournament victory since 1993, snapping a five-game postseason losing streak in the process.
The Wildcats pounded out 10 hits, including a pair of home runs and a few timely knocks with runners in scoring position to beat the Anteaters (34-22-1), a team that registered a pair of wins over Arizona during the regular season.
Arizona moves on to play fourth-seeded Kent State on Saturday at 3:05 p.m. (EST). The Golden Flashes upset top-seeded Notre Dame 2-1 in Friday’s opening game. It will be the first-ever meeting between the Wildcats and KSU.
A quartet of Wildcats registered a pair of hits each and combined to drive in six of Arizona’s runs. Sophomore first baseman Jordan Brown, the Wildcat leader in home runs and RBI, homered and doubled to drive in a pair of runs, while junior designated hitter Richard Mercado came through with a pair of clutch singles to drive home a trio. Sophomore center fielder Derek Decater added a home run, and junior right fielder Jeff Van Houten had two singles and a pair of runs scored.
After appearing in relief in the last game of the regular season, junior righthander Koley Kolberg (9-6) was effective for Arizona, going 6+ innings before leaving with a 7-2 lead. He threw 99 pitches and surrendered eight hits and two runs, while striking out three and walking four. The Navarro Junior College transfer had struggled over the last month of the regular season, going 1-3 with an 8.44 ERA in four starts in May.
Irvine had a number of opportunities, but could not come through with clutch hits most of the night. The Anteaters left the bases loaded twice and stranded runners on third on two other occasions. In all, UC Irvine left 12 on base.
Junior righthander Brett Smith (8-5) started for UCI and took the loss, going 6.2 innings and giving up six runs on eight hits, while striking out six and walking a pair. It marked the most earned runs he has allowed this season. After starting 6-0, Smith has now lost five of his last seven decisions.
UC Irvine saw three players register two hits each. Junior center fielder Jordan Szabo had singles in his first two at-bats, and nearly got another in his third time to the plate, but Kolberg got a glove on a come-backer, which allowed the Wildcats to turn a double play to clear the bases. The next hitter, freshman designated hitter Cody Cipriano, singled hard to left for his second hit of the day in what would have continued a possible big inning if Kolberg hadn’t knocked down the line drive up the middle. Matt Fisher, the leadoff hitter, also had a pair of hits, while walking twice.
The Wildcats scored a pair in the first to stake an early advantage. It took just two batters for them to go up 1-0, due largely to Smith struggling early with his control. The Irvine hurler walked Trevor Crowe to open the game, then committed his first balk of the season to move him to second. Van Houten then laced a single to score Crowe and hand Arizona the lead. Four batters later, Mercado singled in Van Houten to put the ‘Cats up by two.
UCI hammered out five hits in the third, plating a pair of runs to tie the score, but then couldn’t score any more despite having the bases loaded with only one down. Mark Wagner’s bloop single to center with the bases loaded scored one, and another run crossed the plate when Decater mishandled the ball.
In the following half-inning, Decater broke out of a 1-for-21 slump by hitting a home run deep to right field. It was his first in more than a year, since he slammed two on April 28, 2003, at Sacramento State.
Brown, Arizona’s top power threat, planted a ball over the right-field fence in the fifth in almost exactly the same spot Decater’s ball landed.
Three more runs in the seventh gave Arizona a commanding advantage. Brown doubled in a run, which chased Smith from the game. Three batters later, Mercado came through with a two-out single to score two more and open up a 7-2 advantage.
Senior righthander Scott Burns came on in relief and earned his third save of the season, giving up a run on two hits in three innings of work.
UC Irvine loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but scored just once – on a sacrifice fly by Matt Anderson.
Irvine had another excellent opportunity in the seventh, but left the bases loaded without scoring a run. Two walks by Kolberg and one by Burns gave Wagner a chance to get the Anteaters back into the game, but his come-backer to the mound was handled by Burns, who got a force out at home and then retired pinch hitter R.J. Brown to get out of the inning.
Like Smith, Kolberg struggled in the first inning, but he was able to get out of a jam unscathed. Two walks and a base hit loaded the bases, but UCI could not come up with a timely hit to tie the score.
The first elimination game of the South Bend regional, slated for 11:05 a.m. (EST) on Saturday, will feature the top two seeds, as the Anteaters will take on the top-seeded Irish.