Just like its chances for an outright Big West Conference crown, another superb performance by sophomore starting pitcher Elliot Surrey, and even a chance at history for junior closer Sam Moore, the lead slipped away from the UC Irvine baseball team Saturday night.
Moore, two outs away from a 24th save that would have tied the NCAA single-season record, gave up a game-tying infield single with the bases loaded in the ninth inning against visiting Cal State Fullerton.
The Titans then scored in the 10th to earn a 2-1 Big West win that puts the Anteaters closer to the precipice of the proverbial postseason bubble.
UCI (35-18, 15-5 in conference) is now tied with first-place Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the loss column, with Cal Poly (18-5 in conference) facing its final Big West game on Sunday at Cal State Northridge.
Surrey, who has been somewhat overshadowed by senior pitching star Andrew Morales, threw seven scoreless innings, allowing just six hits and striking out eight. Surrey has now had to settle for three no-decisions and one loss in his last four starts, despite allowing just four earned runs in 27 2/3 innings in those four outings. His earned-run average dipped to 1.83, though he has not won since April 12.
Moore, who had just one blown save in 24 opportunities coming in, relieved Surrey to start the eighth inning. He stranded a runner at third in the eighth, and induced a flyout to open the ninth.
But Jared Deacon and Taylor Bryant singled, before Tyler Stieb was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Keegan Dale then hit a come-backer just under the glove of Moore, who stabbed at the ball, only to have it carom off his leg toward first baseman Connor Spencer, who fielded it but had no play.
Moore retired the next two hitters to preserve the deadlock, but UCI, failed to score in the ninth.
Jimmy Litchfield started the 10th for the Anteaters and gave up a leadoff single to Greg Velazquez. After a flyout, Litchfield hit Clay Williamson with a pitch to put runners on first and second for Deacon.
The senior catcher lined a single into left field to drive in the winning run and extend UCI's Big West losing streak to four games.
Cal State Fullerton (27-22, 10-10) is making the most of its spoiler role against its Orange County rival, as the Titans are expected to miss the postseason for the first time in 23 seasons.
"It really hurts," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said. "We're at a point where the next one is the most important one, so this was the most important one and it's a hard loss.
"Surrey pitched great, we got a couple hits off a really good pitcher [Titans starter Justin Garza], and we played really good defense," Gillespie said. "We faced lights-out pitching, so we got a little manhandled at the plate. We all would have liked to have seen more hits, but I have a hard time being critical of anybody in this one."
UCI seized the lead in the fourth inning when junior third baseman Taylor Sparks doubled with one out and scored on a two-out single by junior catcher Jerry McClanahan.
UCI had back-to-back two-out singles in the second inning and had a two-out Jonathan Munoz double, followed by a walk in the sixth. But Garza who allowed six hits in seven innings, pitched out of both jams.
McClanahan went two for two with a walk and also reached when being hit by a pitch to open the ninth.
UCI had seven hits and now has 12 in the series, half as many as the Titans' two-game total.
Phil Beckford earned the win with two hitless relief innings and J.D. Davis collected his team-leading fifth save by recording the final three outs.
The two teams conclude the series Sunday at 1 p.m.
Big West Conference
Cal State Fullerton 2, UCI 1 (10 innings)
SCORE BY INNINGS
CSF 000 000 001 1 – 2 12 0
UCI 000 100 000 0 – 1 7 0
Garza, Bickford (8), Davis (10) and Kennedy, Deacon (8); Surrey, Moore (8), Litchfield (10), Merten (10) and McClanahan. W – Bickford, 5-3. L – Litchfield, 3-2. Sv – Davis (5). 2B – Sparks (UCI), Munoz (UCI), Davis (CSF).