IRVINE, Calif. --- Taylor Sparks provided the 11th-inning heroics with a flare single to right, driving in Connor Spencer from second base as the 23rd-ranked Anteaters edged Cal State Northridge 4-3, Friday at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark. The win pulled UCI even with the Matadors in the Big West standings at 4-3 as UCI climbed to 22-8 overall and CSUN fell to 18-16.
Spencer, who was 1 for 4 with an RBI and plated the winning run, worked the key one-out walk in the 11th from reliever Brycen Rutherford. A wild pitch put Spencer on second and Sparks worked the count full before slicing the ball to shallow right-field. Spencer was waved around third and slid around catcher Alexis Mercado for the win.
UCI took an early 2-0 lead with single runs in the first and third. Dominique Taylor, 2 for 5, doubled to left-centerfield off starter Jerry Keel and scored on Spencer's run-scoring hit to put UCI on the board.
Chris Rabago drove a ball up the middle in the third and Sparks gave UCI a two-run lead with a clutch two-out double that fell just inside the right-field line.
Starter Andrew Thurman cruised through the first three innings, facing the minimum. A leadoff double in the fourth was cashed in by Josh Goossen-Brown, who lined a clean single through the left-side as the Matadors trimmed the lead to one at 2-1.
UCI was held scoreless by Keel and the Matador bullpen for the next six innings and CSUN would knot the score in the eighth. Kyle Ferramola hit a lead-off double and took third on the sacrifice bunt from Nicolas Osuna. Michael Livingston hit a seeing-eye single under the glove of Thurman and up the middle to erase the Anteater lead.
The Matadors then took their first lead of the game in the top of the 10th. Osuna reached first on an error by Sparks and advanced to second on the sacrifice bunt from Livingston. Kyle Attl's first hit of the game was a key double inside the third-base bag against reliever Race Parmenter to drive in the go-ahead run.
However, UCI punched back in the bottom of the inning as Ronnie Shaeffer belted a stand-up double to left to open the frame. Scott Gottschling laid down a solid bunt to third for the sacrifice but Osuna was unable to field the ball cleanly, putting runners on first and third with no outs. Goossen-Brown, who had moved to the pitcher's mound from first in the ninth, got a key defensive play from Attl, whose diving catch on a line-drive robbed pinch-hitter Ryan Cooper of a hit. However, Jerry McClanahan came through with a slow roller to short to drive in Shaeffer and tie the score at 3-3.
Mitch Merten came out of the 'Eater pen in the 11th and struck out the side while yielding a two-out hit. Merten earned the win to climb to 3-1.
Thurman gave UCI a stellar start, holding the Matadors to two runs on five hits while striking out nine in 7.2 innings but did not factor in the decision. Andrew Morales issued a walk but bounced back by inducing a grounder to third for the final out of the eighth, leaving the bases the loaded and the score knotted at 2-2. Parmenter pitched two innings and struck out while giving up an unearned run on one hits.
Keel pitched 5.2 and limited UCI to two runs on eight hits. Rutherford suffered his first loss (0-1) after allowing the game-winning run in 1/3 innings of relief.
Livingston and Ferramola each posted two hits to pace the Matador offense.
The series continues Saturday at 1:00 p.m.