For the third game in a row, Fresno State found itself down late against UC Irvine — but not out.
And again, the Bulldogs (3-0) turned on the late-inning heroics in a 7-5 comeback win Sunday afternoon to sweep the Anteaters (0-3) in front of 1,642 fans at Beiden Field.
“I think what validates the weekend is who we played,” Bulldogs coach Mike Batesole said. “It’s against a team that just played in Omaha (Anteaters reached the 2014 College World Series) and has 20 returning players. … That’s a heckuva ballclub to get three from.”
The break for Fresno State came when UC Irvine (0-3) pulled starter Evan Manarino after six innings and went to the bullpen.
Manarino was in line for the win when he stepped off the mound (Anteaters were leading 5-0), giving up just six hits, one walk and striking out nine Bulldogs.
Left-hander Sean Sparling took over and immediately gave up a single to pinch-hitter Kevin Viers that ignited a two-run rally in the seventh.
The heroics continued in the eighth as the Bulldogs strung together five hits — including three home runs off three different UC Irvine pitchers — for five runs and the lead. Sparling was chased off the bump after Viers’ one-out, two-run homer made it a 5-4 ballgame. Right-handed reliever Michael Agramonte then gave up a double down the left-field line to Kenny Corey.
One out later, Agramonte gave up a high-flying two-run homer to left by Brody Russell that put Fresno State ahead 6-5.
In came left-hander Cameron Bishop, and again the Bulldogs rattled the Anteaters’ bullpen. Taylor Ward ripped a solo shot off the scoreboard in left field to give the ?Bulldogs back-to-back home runs and a two-run lead.
“There’s a lot of ways to beat a team,” Batesole said. “You can beat the starter, or you can grind him down and make them go to their bullpen and beat their bullpen. … There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat and that’s one of them.”
Russell led the Bulldogs offense, going 3 for 5 with three runs batted in.
“The past two games have been ‘don't give up the fight’,” Russell said. “I set my next plan and got what I wanted and did what I could for the team. It just happened to be a home run.”
Reliever Jake Shull (1-0) earned the win for the Bulldogs, giving up one hit and hitting two batters in a scoreless 12/3 innings.
The Bulldogs had their lead threatened in the top of the ninth as UC Irvine loaded the bases with one out, but second baseman Korby Batesole caught Keston Hiura’s line drive and threw to first for a game-ending 4-3 double play.
Agramonte (0-1) suffered the loss, pitching to just three batters and giving up two hits — Corey’s double and Russell’s homer — in a third of an inning of work.
UC Irvine got on the board early, getting single runs off Bulldogs starter Garrett Mundell in the second, third and fifth innings. In the sixth, Andrew Martinez hit his third homer of the series to lead off the inning. Two outs later, Jonathan Brontsema added another solo home run to put the Anteaters up 5-0.
Fresno State hopes to keep the momentum rolling into Tuesday’s game against Cal Poly.
“It’s a great way to see our limits,” Russell said. “… Knowing we can come back after getting knocked down. That kind of stuff comes into play, not just this weekend, but every weekend after that. This isn’t the first time we’re going to be in a losing situation and it’s not the first time we’ll come back from one. So knowing those limitations early, now in the first weekend, is crucial.”