Valencia alum earns all-Big West conference honors as freshman 

Ricky Ojeda. Photo courtesy of UC Irvine Athletics.

Valencia alumnus Ricky Ojeda dominated on the mound in his senior season with Vikings baseball. Now as a freshman UC Irvine Anteater, not much has changed. 

Ojeda made an immediate impact on the UCI program and earned first-team all-Big West Conference honors in his first year of collegiate play. The lefty was one of two freshmen to make the first or second teams. 

“That came as a surprise to me,” Ojeda said in a phone interview. “I had a good freshman year but I didn’t think it’d be something like a first-team honors year, not being a starter. I wasn’t really thinking that I was gonna collect an award or anything but once it came out, I was surprised.” 

The reliever finished the year with 74 strikeouts and a 3.46 ERA through 52 innings of work as one of the Anteaters’ top bullpen arms. Ojeda allowed just five extra-base hits on the season. 

The freshman earned some playing time early and got his first collegiate win in a dream scenario. Ojeda blanked the UCLA Bruins through three innings on the hill with three strikeouts to earn the win at Dodger Stadium on March 3, on the one-year anniversary of his high school perfect game against Taft. 

“I was focused on the game,” Ojeda said. “Before the game, I was thinking about all the history and stuff like that because you have to. You walk in there you see all the murals of Valenzuela and Hershiser … Dodger Stadium was awesome. That was such a cool experience; just being able to go on the field in general, was awesome. A lot of family and fans showed up, too, there were like 4,000 people in the stands. I haven’t played anywhere like that.” 

Ricky Ojeda. Photo courtesy of UC Irvine Athletics.

On March 3, 2023, Ojeda had one of the best games of his life against the Taft Toreadors. The lefty retired 21 straight batters on the road and threw the first perfect game in Valencia baseball history. He finished the game with 12 strikeouts as the Vikings won, 7-0. 

Ojeda followed up that performance just days later with a one-hit, 19-strikeout outing against Saugus. 

The freshman made 25 appearances on the mound this season, the third most in the bullpen. However, his freshman season looked up in the air back in the fall of 2023, when Ojeda was still getting the hang of the NCAA level of play.  

“I had a rough fall here,” Ojeda said. “I was struggling a little bit with pinching, my velo was down but I came back after winter break. Velo started going up and my command was getting there. I earned a spot being a reliever. The coaches like me there so I was fine with that. I got a good amount of innings and struck a few people out. It was fun.” 

Ojeda took some time to adjust to the collegiate speed. As a Valencia senior throwing low-to-mid 90-mph strikes, he typically demolished high school varsity opponents. The reliever still throws well above the NCAA average and was able to be a key contributor to one of the best seasons in program history. 

“I didn’t think I was gonna be where I was this year,” Ojeda said. “I didn’t think I’d have a major role. It just turned out like that and I’m happy with the outcome … I adjusted well and my confidence for sure has gone up from when I first got here. I’m able to consistently go out there and do what I do and feel good about doing it, too. I’m not being timid when I go on the mound or anything. I just built up confidence in every outing I had.” 

UCI finished the year 45-14 with a 22-8 record in the Big West, where the Anteaters finished second to UC Santa Barbara, a team they beat in their season series. A few stumbles in the long NCAA season cost UCI the Big West title. 

The season officially ended in the NCAA Regionals, where the Anteaters posted big wins over Nicholls and Tulane but just couldn’t get past the Oregon State Beavers. 

The reliever doesn’t pay much mind to his opponent in the batter box. He simply attacks with an arsenal of pitches, including his fastball and a few new pitches up his sleeve. 

“I really try to not think about who’s in the box. It’s just another guy with a bat in his hands,” the all-Big West pitcher said. “I just go up there and just try to attack him. My best pitch is my fastball, so I try riding with that. This year, I was able to get some more off-speed pitches with a curveball and slider. Being able to use those gets guys off balance.” 

Ojeda has big hopes for his program, despite a handful of players graduating out and conference Field Player of the Year Myles Smith likely to get drafted. 

“I think that we’re losing three pitchers,” Ojeda said. “Other than that, we still had a lot of guys coming back. Most of our pitching staff is coming back.” 

The team will return most of its talented arms, bats and gloves in 2025, a year in which Ojeda will look to return to the all-Big West honors but as a starter. The lefty from Valencia is aiming to join UCI’s starting rotation, ignoring any speculation of such but putting in the work to again earn his spot. 

“A lot of people have been telling me I have a good chance of being the Friday guy,” Ojeda said. “I’m not really listening to that because it’s too far in the future. I’ll just wait until fall and figure it out and see where I’m at. But I think I’ve got a good chance of being a starter for sure next year.” 

Valencia pitcher Ricardo Ojeda (13) pitches. Chris Torres/The Signal

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