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Anteaters fall on the swords

No. 1 Virginia, down to its final strike, rallies for two in the ninth inning to deny UCI a berth in College World Series.

June 14, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
  • Virginia second baseman Keith Werman (2) prepares to tag out Tommy Reyes trying to steal second base.
Virginia second baseman Keith Werman (2) prepares to… (Evan Habeeb-US…)

One strike away.

Those three words will haunt the 2011 UC Irvine baseball team, much the same way "three outs away" provided a similarly painful reminder in 2008 that no trip to Omaha is secure until the 27th out is recorded in the second win of an NCAA Super Regional.

UCI came within one pitch of upsetting No. 1 national seed Virginia in Game 3 of their Super Regional, winning the best-of-three series and earning the program's second trip to the College World Series on Monday at the Cavaliers' Davenport Field.

Instead, Virginia (54-10), which had two outs and nobody on against All-American pitcher Matt Summers, rallied for two runs and a 3-2 victory that deflated not only those in Anteaters' uniforms, but all of 'Eater Nation.

"When you get that close, it's mentally painful and disappointing," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, reached by phone in Charlottesville, said. "The players are just devastated. The time will come when everybody will realize that they really did well and they really competed and they should be proud of how well they played and the year they had … I'm certainly not articulate enough to have something to say that makes a difference."

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UCI (43-18) had battled for leads of 1-0 and 2-1, the latter coming in the top of the ninth against the No. 1 pitching staff in the nation's near-perfect closer, Branden Kline.

Sean Madigan led off the ninth with a single, advanced to third when catcher John Hicks' throw to second base trying to get a force out on Brian Hernandez's sacrifice bunt sailed off the shortstop's glove to leave runners on the corners. Madigan scored on a double-play grounder by Drew Hillman.

Summers, who induced an inning-ending double play upon entering the game in the eighth, struck out Danny Hultzen, then induced senior center fielder Kenny Swab, whose first home run of the season tied the game in the sixth inning, to ground out to first to start the ninth.

But Hicks smacked a 1-2 pitch for a single up the middle to stave off elimination and give all but a slice of the capacity crowd of 5,050 a sliver of hope.

Junior first baseman Jared King, whose three-run homer was the crowning blow in a 6-0 opening-game victory Saturday, bounced a 1-1 pitch off the inside of Summers' left heel to put the go-ahead run on base.

Summers quickly assured Gillespie that he was fine, but did not take any practice pitches and walked pinch-hitter Reed Gragnani on four pitches to load the bases.

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