Lincoln, Neb. – UC Irvine scored eight runs in the first three innings, and held off a valiant comeback from Oral Roberts, as the Anteaters won for the fourth straight time in NCAA Regional play with a hard-fought 9-7 win over the Golden Eagles on Friday night at Hawks Field.

 

Irvine, which had only blown one lead of larger than one run in 54 games this season, nearly let a six-run lead evaporate. Leading 8-2 after four innings, ORU scored one in the fifth, three in the sixth and one more in the seventh to close the gap to 8-7. After the Anteaters added an insurance run in the eighth, the Golden Eagles loaded the bases with only one out in the ninth, but left the tying runner stranded in scoring position, as Anteater closer Eric Pettis picked up his 16th save of the season, one shy of the UC Irvine school record.

 

With the win, Irvine (39-16) improved its record to a perfect 34-0 when leading after five innings. The victory secured a place in Saturday’s semifinals, where the second-seeded Anteaters will be the home team against top-seeded host Nebraska at 7 p.m. Third-seeded Oral Roberts (46-13) will face No. 4 seed Eastern Illinois in an elimination contest at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

 

UC Irvine Coach Mike Gillespie said he was proud of the way his team held on for the finish, despite the drama.

 

"Now that it's over, that was fun. It was hard. It was a grind. I'm really proud of the number of different guys that did something to pick us up on the mound, at the mound and on defense," Gillespie said.  "There were a lot of things that happened in that game that, perhaps without any one of those kinds of things, the game could've been different. Oral Roberts was all that was advertised.  We were led to believe they could really hit, and they didn't disappoint in that regard. They really can hit. It was drama and we love it."

 

Both starting pitchers earned the decision, as Scott Gorgen (11-3) earned the win despite allowing a career-high six runs. Michael Jarman (11-3) suffered the loss, as he was tagged for six runs while recording only one out in his shortest outing of the season.

 

In the first inning, UC Irvine sent 11 batters to the plate while jumping out to a 6-0 lead. Ollie Linton coaxed a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on a one-out single from Tony Asaro. Francis Larson followed with another RBI single to put the Anteaters on top, 2-0. A hit batter loaded the bases for Dillon Bell, who delivered a well-placed two-run single to left to double the Anteaters’ lead. A walk reloaded the base for Aaron Lowenstein, the No. 9 hitter, who brought home the inning’s fifth run with an RBI ground out. Batting for the second time in the inning, Linton reached on an RBI infield single that put UC Irvine in front by six.

 

ORU Coach Rob Walton said the early pitching struggles cost the Eagles, but he was proud of the way his team responded to battle back.

 

"In this type of situation, as good as Irvine is, if you’re going to spot them a six-spot early, it’s tough to recover from," Walton said. "If we had put up some zeros, I thought we could make a run. I thought Mark (Serrano) really threw the ball well and gave us a chance and an opportunity to make a run and had a chance to win the ballgame here in the last inning. But if we don’t give up those runs early, obviously it’s a different story. I thought they did really well, and the game was basically won by their first inning.”

 

Oral Roberts responded quickly when David Genao ripped a two-run homer two batters into the top of the second inning to cut the lead to 6-2.

 

The Anteaters answered right back in the bottom of the frame on Josh Tavelli’s RBI single.

 

Linton’s speed was a factor in Irvine taking an 8-2 lead in the third. Linton reached on a two-out double, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.

 

From there Oral Roberts’ reliever Mark Serrano allowed just one run over his final five innings of relief to give the Golden Eagles’ potent offense a chance to cut into the deficit.

 

ORU got its first run back in the fifth when Ben Petralli ripped a 2-2 pitch into center field for a two-out, RBI single that cut the gap to 8-3.

 

The Golden Eagles struck again in the sixth, as the first three batters of the inning all reached base safely. Michael Notaro pulled ORU to within 8-4 with an RBI single. The Golden Eagles had runners at second and third with no outs after a throwing error by the catcher on a failed pickoff attempt. Adam Younger then lined a two-run single past a diving Josh Tavelli at second to score two and make the score 8-6.

 

ORU made it five straight runs when Brian Van Kirk drilled a solo home run in the seventh to cut the deficit to 8-7. It was Van Kirk's 18th homer

 

UC Irvine added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on a two-out infield single from Sean Madigan.

 

Oral Roberts put the tying and go-ahead runs on base with one out in the ninth on the strength of a double and two walks. Ryan Groth then struck out swinging before Genao – who finished with a team-high three hits in the game – grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.

 

Genao homered and finished 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs and two runs scored to pace the Golden Eagles’ 11-hit attack. Tony Asaro led the UC Irvine offense, finishing 3-for-5 as one of four Anteaters to record a multi-hit game.