Perfection is not a matter of Andrew Morales' concern, though his record continues to assert otherwise.
Coming off his only shaky outing of the season, and arguably his career, the UC Irvine senior right-hander provided a concise and commanding reminder of just how good he has been for the Anteaters on Friday night. His complete-game two-hitter helped the hosts defeat Grand Canyon, 2-0, in the first of a three-game nonconference series at Anteater Ballpark.
Morales, who is 4-0 this season and 14-0 in his career at UCI after transferring from Rio Hondo Community College, where he was merely 21-1, struck out 10, induced nine groundouts and threw just 96 pitches to send the 467 in attendance home after just one hour, 49 minutes. It was the first complete game of the season for a UCI staff that has a solid 2.56 earned-run average.
"I knew [Morales] wanted to kind of prove himself and kind of get over the Nebraska outing [three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings to halt a scoreless streak of 34 1/3 innings in a game the 'Eaters eventually won in Lincoln], because he was really kind of upset at how he did over there," said UCI catcher Jerry McClanahan, whose sacrifice fly in the first inning proved to be the game-winning run batted in. "He was unreal. In the bullpen you could just tell he was focused and you knew he was going to attack guys."
Morales, whose ERA dipped from 0.78 to 0.62, had a perfect game through five innings, before the Antelopes' Michael Pomeroy singled through the right side to open the sixth. Morales then issued a walk and a sacrifice bunt put the tying runs in scoring position. But Morales wriggled out of the jam with a strikeout and a fly to center.
Morales allowed a two-out single in the seventh, then retired the final seven in a row to pad his pristine record with the first shutout of his UCI career. He has now surrendered only 23 hits in 42 2/3 innings this season and he has 43 strikeouts with 11 walks.
"We worked really hard this week to find my fastball command, which I didn't have in Nebraska," Morales said. "I felt good out there tonight."
UCI Coach Mike Gillespie stated the obvious about his ace.
"Morales was really good and the one time he got in trouble, he pitched out of it," said Gillespie, who remains concerned with an offense that mustered just four hits against Grand Canyon starter Jorge Perez, who went the distance to fall to 1-5. "We don't get that many complete games, that's for sure."
Kris Paulino led off the game with a single and Perez walked Taylor Sparks (moved up one spot in the order from his familiar No. 3 assignment), and Connor Spencer to load the bases. McClanahan lifted a fly ball to left that plated Paulino, but Perez worked out of the jam.
A foul pop-up that eluded catcher Humberto Aranda for an error, gave Chris Rabago life with two outs in the UCI third inning and the junior shortstop cashed in. Rabago doubled off a diving right-fielder's glove to drive in Spencer, who had opened the inning with a single to extend his hitting streak to 12 games.
Mikey Duarte had the other hit for UCI (14-7), which has scored just two runs in two games this week after being blanked by Pepperdine on Tuesday. The 'Eaters' team batting average dropped four points to .266.
Grand Canyon (10-10) will try to rebound in Game 2 of the series on Saturday at 1 p.m.
UC Irvine 2, Grand Canyon 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
GC 000 000 000 – 0 2 2
UCI 1-1 000 00x – 2 4 0
Perez and Aranda; Morales and McCLanahan. W – Morales, 4-0. L – Perez, 1-5. 2B – Rabago (UCI).