On Feb. 16, Fresno State baseball catcher Zach Presno was at the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Bulldogs were down by one.
Despite trailing 9-4 in the fourth, Fresno State now had the chance to take the lead with left fielder Ryan Higgins on third base.
UC Irvine pitcher John Vergara fired a fastball to Presno, and he slammed it to right field for a two-run homer that gave the ‘Dogs their first lead of the game. The Bulldogs went on to win that game 12-10 on Sunday’s series finale at Pete Beiden Field.
The Fresno State (2-1) split the first two games with the Anteaters on Friday and Saturday. The Bulldogs won the first game, 2-1, and the Anteaters took the second,12-6.
On opening night, the two starting pitchers — Bulldogs’ Jaime Arias and Anteaters’ Trenton Denholm went toe-to-toe. Both pitchers were All-Americans last season, and both finished the game with strong performances.
In his seventh career win for the Bulldogs, Arias 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.
Bulldogs’ head coach Mike Batesole said Arias came out strong on Friday.
“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 Anteaters’ lone run came in the third from right fielder Nathan Church. He singled up the middle for the Anteaters’ second hit of the night 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 ‘Dogs only racked up a total of four hits, but scored all their runs on home runs. Bulldogs right fielder Nate Thimjon hit a solo homer along the left-field line to tie the game, and shortstop Jeff Jamison slammed the ball to left-center field near the scoreboard for a two-run blast, giving Fresno State a 3-1 lead.
The Anteaters would never take the lead back as the ‘Dogs held them scoreless for the rest of the game.
On Saturday, Fresno State jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after Presno launched his first home run of the season with runners on first and second base, Higgins and Thimjon, respectively. UC Irvine, however, countered with three runs in the fifth and sixth, tying the game at 3-3.
The teams began trading runs at this point, but the Anteaters created separation with four runs in the seventh. Still, the ‘Dogs got within one run and were trailing 7-6 after Presno hit a solo home run to right-center.
The Anteaters continued to score, adding five more runs in the final two innings to earn their first win of the season.
With the series split at 1-1, Sunday was the deciding game, and both teams fought to gain a winning record.
Sunday’s game featured strong offensive performances from both teams as the Anteaters and Bulldogs tallied 14 and 15 hits, respectively. For the ‘Dogs, 10 different players tallied a hit and scored a run.
UC Irvine scored nine runs in the first three innings while the ‘Dogs scored four runs in the second and third off a three-run home run by Jamison and an RBI single by redshirt freshman Zach Morgan.
The Bulldog bullpen led by Alex Kendrick and Julian Sotelo was able to slow down the Anteaters in the fourth, fifth and sixth, limiting them to zero runs and three hits. In the seventh, Morgan hit a single to right-center and added two RBIs as Nick Berry and Thimjon scored.
In the eighth inning, Anteaters first baseman Adrian Damla hit a single up the middle and added an RBI as Peabody scored. After that run, the ‘Dogs held the Anteaters to zero hits and scored six hits and six runs, including Presno’s home run, to take a 12-10 lead.
After the game, Batesole spoke about opening the season with a winning record.
“It is early and just one game, but it is a gigantic different feeling coming back to practice this week being 2-1 instead of 1-2, especially how this game went. We would be kicking ourselves about how we played early in the game,” Batesole said. “It would be a whole different feel around here, and it was pretty electric in the clubhouse after the game and how high it was. It would have been about as low if we didn’t finish it, so it is bigger than one game.”
After a stellar performance this past weekend, Presno earned his first career Mountain West Player of the week honors. At the plate, Presno hit .417, smacking three home runs, scoring four runs, adding six RBIs and slugging 1.250.