LONG BEACH — Now that postseason form will almost certainly come into play for the UC Irvine baseball team, senior Casey Stevenson is showing he hasn’t forgotten how to capture his.
The Anteaters’ second baseman went five for five with a home run, a double and three runs batted in to help No. 23-ranked UCI post a 6-1 Big West Conference road win Saturday against Long Beach State at Blair Field.
Stevenson, who played his freshman year at College of the Canyons, has hit .529 in 34 postseason at-bats the last two seasons. In NCAA Regional play, the three-year starter is 15 for 24, a cool .625 average.
While Stevenson is a proven postseason commodity, UCI freshman Evan Brock proved again he could be a pitcher who will factor in beyond the regular season, which ends today.
Brock pitched into the ninth, allowing six hits, notching a career-high eight strikeouts and earning the victory to improve to 5-4. The right-hander gave up a double and a run-producing triple in the first inning, then settled in.
After Matt Duffy singled with one out in the second inning, Brock retired 20 of the next 21 until giving up back-to-back singles to open the ninth.
Sophomore Nick Hoover came on to retire the side and preserve the win, which clinches the series and further solidifies a berth in one of the 16 four-team NCAA Regionals for the Big West Conference’s runner-up (36-19, 16-7 in conference).
Regional pairings will be announced Monday.
“This was his best yet,” UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said of Brock’s fifth collegiate start, the longest outing of his career. “He walked nobody, so that’s a true indicator, and he mixed his pitches really well. I think he was effective with all three pitches.”
Stevenson was just part of an offense that was effective for the second straight night. Following a ??? 12-hit effort in a 6-0 win Friday, UCI collected 15 hits against three 49ers pitchers.
Junior Drew Hillman, an Orange Coast College product, went three for five with an RBI, and juniors Jonathan Hurst and Brian Hernandez had two hits apiece.
Hillman and Hurst, who appear to have claimed jobs in an outfield that has been in flux all season, are both five for nine with two RBIs against Long Beach State (23-31, 7-16).
A sacrifice fly by junior Ryan Fisher pulled the ’Eaters even in the second and another run-scoring fly ball off the bat of senior Jeff Cusick put the visitors ahead for good in the third. It was the team-leading 56th RBI of the season for Cusick, who is one for his last 16. His average has fallen to .374, which also leads the team.
Hillman singled in a second run in the third. A Stevenson single plated another run in the fourth and Stevenson blasted a two-run home run, his fourth of the season, with one out in the eighth.
Stevenson also ended the game on a sparkling double play, chasing down a bouncer up the middle near second base, stepping on the bag and throwing across his body to first for the final out.
“I was seeing the ball about as well as I have been the last two or three weeks,” said Stevenson, whose five hits are a career-best. “I was just hitting it where they weren’t tonight.
“I have always come on late, even in high school. I can’t explain it. Later in the year, there is something that turns on and I start seeing the ball better.”
Gillespie said Stevenson’s familiar late-season surge could come in handy.
“I’m one of those guys who uses the cliché that I’ll believe it when I see it,” Gillespie said. “But I’d be dumbfounded if we don’t get [a regional berth]. It would just be an ultimate slap in the face to this conference.”