2003 Highlanders

2003 UCR Baseball Team

The 2003 Highlanders didn't win a National Championship. They didn't win a Big West Championship. But they did prove conclusively that UC Riverside belonged on the Division I stage.

The Highlanders were in just their second year as an official Division I institution, but looked like seasoned veterans on the field as they won eight of their first nine games and had a 22-6 record at the end of March.

The team continued its success through the Big West portion of the schedule, but it was the first weekend in May that really set the tone for the season as the No. 1 ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans came to town for a weekend set.

It was a carnival-like atmosphere at the Riverside Sports Complex as the series began. By the time it ended, Highlander fans were delirious with joy as they shocked the college baseball world with a three-game sweep of the top-ranked Titans. The Highlanders took game one, 13-3, behind a complete game by starter Jaymie Torres. The next day, centerfielder Brian Wahlbrink led off the game with a homer and the Highlanders held on for a 4-3 win. In the finale, UCR scored five unanswered runs to post a 5-1 win to sweep the series.

When the teams were announced for the NCAA Baseball Regional, UCR got the call to go to Stanford's Sunken Diamond. Then-Head Coach Jack Smitheran said "We really didn't know where we were going, but I can't think of a better place than Stanford."

UCR opened up the regional against the University of Richmond Spiders and were matched up against All-American hurler Tim Stauffer. It was the UCR offense that saved the day, as the Highlanders used an eighth inning rally to overcome a 4-2 Spiders' lead. DH Jason Collette led off the inning with his fifth homer of the season off of Stauffer. A few moments later, Wahlbrink smoked a 3-2 pitch for a towering two-run homer to give UCR a 4-3 lead. Prior to that inning Stauffer had allowed just three homers total all season. The added runs in the ninth, then held off a Spider rally for a 10-8 win.

The rest of the tournament was not as kind to the Highlanders, who were eliminated the next day with a pair of losses to the host Cardinal and to the Spiders. UCR finished the season at 41-17 overall, 14-7 in the Big West. They had nine players named to the All-Big West Teams, including a league-best six first team players . CF Wahlbrink, P Torres, RF Ryan Harvey, SS Randy Blood, 3B Tony Festa, and 1B Kevin Mangels.