‘Dogs win a close game on opening night

Infielder Jeff Jamison (9) hits a 2-run home run in the fifth inning against UC Irvine pitcher Trenton Denholm at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. (Armando Carreno/The Collegian)

In the eighth inning, chants for Fresno State pitcher Ryan “Sully” Sullivan grew louder and louder on opening night. UC Irvine second baseman Riley Kasper came up to plate and the Anteaters had runners on second and third base — Jake Palmer and Jake Cosgrove.

Sullivan had already thrown two strikes, and the crowd roared in unison, “Sully, Sully, Sully.” Sullivan then gathered himself and threw a fastball to strike out Kasper, leaving two runners on base and handing the Anteaters their third out.

The Fresno State baseball team went on to beat the UC Irvine Anteaters 3-1 at Pete Beiden Field on Friday. 

From the start, it was a battle between the two starting pitchers — Bulldogs’ Jaime Arias and Anteaters’ Trenton Denholm. Both pitchers were All-Americans last season, and both started the game off strong.

Arias’ fastball hovered around 89 mph, and he threw 12 strikes in the first two innings, giving up only one hit.

Bulldogs head coach Mike Batesole said Arias was determined tonight.

“Jaime came out and beat an All-American,” Batesole said. “I think he knew going in, that guy (Denholm) was an All-American. Jaime was an All-American last year and wasn’t a preseason All-American, so I’m pretty sure that was in his craw a little bit tonight.”

The Bulldogs’ outfield was a big help for Arias as well. Right fielder Nate Thimjon made two big plays in the second inning, catching a ball by the wall in right-center and sliding for another one to end the half-inning. 

The Anteaters countered with strong pitching and fielding as well. Denholm retired the first hitter of the night, E.J. Andrews Jr., and held the ‘Dogs to zero hits in the first two innings. 

Both pitchers threw three scoreless innings to begin the game, but the momentum shifted by the fourth inning.

UC Irvine right fielder Nathan Church hit a single up the middle for the Anteaters’ second hit of the night. Church then stole second base and scored off a single to left field by center fielder Mike Peabody. 

Anteaters head coach Ben Orloff said he was impressed by Church’s play on Friday.

“He’s a great player,” Orloff said. “That was his first college game ever, so he’s going to be a really good player for us.”

The Bulldogs battled their hitting woes in the fourth inning and answered back. Thimjon, the leadoff hitter, hit a solo home run along the left-field line to tie the game 1-1. 

After the Anteaters finished the fifth inning scoreless, the ‘Dogs were in trouble on the plate with two outs as second baseman Andrew Kachel stepped to the plate. Kachel then hit a single right to Anteaters shortstop Taishi Nakawake for the Bulldogs’ second hit of the night.

Fresno State shortstop Jeff Jamison was next to bat, and he blasted a home run to the left-center field near the scoreboard giving the ‘Dogs a 3-1 lead — their first lead of the game. 

In the sixth and seventh inning, the Anteaters tried to capitalize on two consecutive errors by Fresno State. Church hit a fly ball straight to Kachel, and he dropped the ball, giving UC Irvine a runner on first.

Arias was able to make up for that mistake, picking off Church at first base. 

In the seventh inning, Anteaters designated hitter Adrian Dalma stepped up to bat and hit a fly ball right to Kachel. As the ball flew, Kachel waited, but dropped the ball once again, and gave the Anteaters a runner on first.

The ‘Dogs recovered once again as pitcher Nik Cardinal was able to get UC Irvine catcher Griffin Mazur to strikeout. Anteaters first baseman Andre Antone was next to bat and hit a ground ball up the middle right to Jamison.

Jamison then ran to second and filled the ball to Fresno State first baseman Ivan Luna for a double play to end the half-inning, sending Damla and Antone back to the dugout. 

Despite the recovery, Batesole said the team has to do better in the infield. 

“We asked Jaime on a Friday night to get four outs twice. You’re not going to win a lot of Friday nights when you’ve got to get four outs twice,” Batesole said. “We were lucky to back that up with a pickoff and a double play. The timing of those was pretty good, but that’s not going to happen every Friday. We’re going to have to clean that up for sure.”

The Anteaters had one last chance in the ninth inning with Peabody on third base. Mazur was next to bat, and Bulldog pitcher Kevin Larson managed to strike him out.

Soon after, Antone hit a fly ball out to center field, and Andrews Jr. caught it, giving the Bulldogs the win.

Larson got his first save of the season, and Batesole said he was ecstatic.

“That was the highlight of the game, seeing Larson come in and answering back after his last outing (against Stanford in 2019),” Batesole said. “Good for him — it’ll go a long way confidence-wise with what happened tonight.”

As for the Anteaters, Orloff said the team missed out on a few key opportunities.

“We had a couple of opportunities where we didn’t score,” Orloff said. “I thought they pitched really well especially out of the bullpen and got us in big spots like Sullivan in the middle of the eighth.”

Arias picked up his seventh career win for the Bulldogs. He had three strikeouts, gave up three hits and one run in six innings. 

Denholm pitched for 5.2 innings, had six strikeouts and two walks along with giving up three runs.

Throughout the game, the Bulldogs racked up only four hits, but Batesole said every game against Denholm is tough.

“Anytime you get a win off a kid like that, you’ve got to fight it out every pitch,” Batesole said. “We really got three pretty good swings off of him. That’s how good he was.”

Fresno State and UC Irvine will play two more games this weekend as part of a three-game series at Pete Beiden Field. The second game of the series will start on Saturday at 2:05 p.m.

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