Fresno State knew how to deliver, both the suspense and a victory, on Friday the 13th.
Kevin Viers, down 0-2 in the count with two out in the bottom of the ninth but with the bases loaded in a tie game, cracked a high line drive to left field — too far for the outfielders to make a play because of a defensive shift against the lefty hitter — to drive in Taylor Ward from third as the Bulldogs edged UC Irvine 5-4 in the season opener at Beiden Field.
Viers did not even enter the game until the seventh as a replacement for designated hitter Aaron Arruda, but he sent the crowd of 1,626 home happy.
“Everyone played their heart out and I figured why can’t I do the same and just tried to win the game so we could all go home,” Viers said. “He just left it over the plate and I went with it and hoped it fell.”
Sophomore Jimmy Lambert, given first crack at being the Bulldogs’ ace this season, went five innings, allowing two runs on four hits while walking three and striking out five. Jake Shull (1-0) pitched the eighth and ninth for the win.
The Bulldogs jumped to a three-run lead in the third thanks to back-to-back doubles from Ward — the Mountain West Conference Preseason Player of the Year — and sophomore Joe Prior.
Ryan Dobson led off with a single to short and moved upon Brody Russell’s sacrifice down the third-base line. Both were safe after pitcher Elliot Surrey’s throw to first was too high for his first baseman to stay on the bag.
That set it up for Ward, who ripped an RBI liner down the third-base line to make it 1-0. Prior followed with a two-run double to right-center, bringing home Russell and Ward.
In the fourth, it was Russell again, as his run-scoring single to right made it 4-0.
UC Irvine rallied, with the Anteaters waiting for their backs nearly to hit the wall before pushing back.
Down four in the top of the fifth, Keston Hiura cut the deficit in half with two outs and a runner on, taking Lambert deep for a two-run home run that barely cleared the glove of a leaping Christian Parra in right field.
The Bulldogs had ample opportunity to pull away in the next inning, but couldn’t add to its total after loading the bases with no outs as Arruda and Parra struck out and Jesse Medrano flied out to end the threat and strand all three runners.
From there, the Anteaters carried the defensive momentum into their next at-bats.
Tim Borst replaced Lambert in the sixth and the right-hander recorded consecutive strikeouts.
But again the Anteaters had a two-out rally in them, receiving back-to-back RBI doubles from Andrew Martinez and Jerry McClanahan to tie it 4-4.
That, eventually, would put it into the hands of Viers.
“What a way to start the season,” Lambert said. “It was definitely a battle for all of us but it makes it feel even better.”