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College Baseball: Sparks keys UCI victory

Sophomore's third hit drives in winning run in 11th and gives him 12 RBIs in his last five games.

April 13, 2013|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE — Taylor Sparks has been more explosion than ignition lately for the UC Irvine baseball team's offense.

But it was perhaps his least impressive hit of late that proved to be the difference in the Anteaters' 4-3 triumph in 11 innings over visiting Cal State Northridge in the opener of a three-game Big West Conference series at Anteater Ballpark.

Sparks, who now has 12 runs batted in in his last five games, lifted a soft single just over the glove of retreating first baseman William Colantono to drive in Connor Spencer with the game-winner. It was the second RBI of the game for Sparks, who went three for six and is now 10 for 21 with 12 RBIs in his last five contests.

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Spencer, who walked to open the inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch, slid safely home as the throw from right fielder Chester Pak skipped past catcher Alexis Mercado to give the Anteaters (22-8, 4-3 in conference) their third win in three extra-inning contests this season.

The win helped UCI move from a four-way tie for fourth place, into a four-way logjam for third with Northridge, UC Riverside and Long Beach State.

Cal State Fullerton edged UCSB, 4-3, on Friday, to improve to 7-0 in conference play. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is second at 5-2.

Sparks, who singled in the fifth to end a streak of his last eight hits going for extra bases, was eager to get a chance at redemption from some late-inning missteps Friday. He struck out with runners on first and second to end the ninth inning. He then helped the Matadors score in the 10th when his throwing error led to a an unearned run that broke a 2-2 tie.

But when Ronnie Shaeffer scored on a Jerry McClanahan groundout after Shaeffer doubled to open the UCI 10th to tie the score at 3-3, Sparks, who had four homers in his previous four games, was happy to get another opportunity to be the hero.

"I was itching for the chance just to get up there again," said Sparks, who now leads the team with 25 RBIs. "After [striking out in the 10th], I was disappointed in myself. I was pumped up and nervous [in the final at-bat], but I was able to get just enough barrel [on the ball] to have it fall and I was able to help my team win."

Sparks said a change in his approach has triggered the recent hot steak, which by no coincidence, has dovetailed with UCI's season-best six-game winning streak.

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