Konnor Zickefoose changed the game with one swing. (Shotgun Spratling)

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Irvine Does The Unexpected Against UO

At The Ballpark

IRVINE, Calif. — You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that knows more about the impact the “marine layer” has on night time fly balls in Southern California than Mike Gillespie. The venerable UC Irvine head coach has coached in the region for nearly 50 years. He has watched countless well-struck balls and home run drives killed by the marine layer. The ball just doesn’t carry at night. Particular areas in individual Southern California parks become virtual dead zones.

At Irvine’s Anteater Ballpark, there is one in right-center field.

So when Konnor Zickefoose unloaded on a 2-0 offering from Kenyon Yovan in the seventh inning, it looked like the Anteaters would have a leadoff hitter on for the third straight inning and potentially in scoring position. But the ball didn’t nuzzle down in the gap. It hung up in the air. It kept going and going and going. Oregon center fielder Jonny DeLuca raced to the warning track. He looked up as he neared the wall. He watched Zickefoose’s ball clear the 12-foot tall fence.

“It was a blast. It really was,” Gillespie said. He tried to put in perspective the frequency of home runs to that part of the park. “Balls don’t get out here [at Anteater Ballpark] much period. There…like almost never. And at night? Almost never never.”

The ‘almost never never’ reversed the course of the game. UC Irvine soon added a second run in the inning to steal a 2-1 victory in Friday night’s series opener that featured sophomore righthanders Andre Pallante and Yovan dueling on the mound.

Oregon scored the game’s first run in the third inning when Spencer Steer jumped on a fastball up in the zone. He turned it around, hitting a solo home run to left field.

Zickefoose’s deep poke evened the score and seemed to rattle Yovan slightly after he had been locked in cruise control the first six innings. Yovan walked the next batter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, on five pitches. A sacrifice bunt moved Fitzpatrick into scoring position. He scored two batters later when pinch hitter Adrian Damla hit a single into right field past a diving first baseman

When asked what went into the decision to pinch hit Damla, Gillespie wryly replied, “Well…genius.” After a chuckle, he added that getting a left-handed bat up wasn’t a difficult decision. The ‘Eaters don’t have an automatic pinch hitter on the bench, so Gillespie relied on his instincts selecting the sophomore with 12 hits this season.

“He hasn’t got to play a lot, but when he’s played over the course of the year, he’s given us some tough outs and good at-bats. It really wasn’t difficult that he could be the guy. It’s nice when it works, isn’t it?”

 


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