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Orloff one Eck of a shortstop

BASEBALL: UC Irvine sophomore shortstop, lacking elite physical gifts has worked hard to achieve success.

April 20, 2007|By Barry Faulkner

UC Irvine's Ben Orloff led the nation in sacrifice hits as a freshman last season. Some might say that is fitting, since it could be argued that no baseball player in America has sacrificed more to become one of his team's most indispensable performers.

"With the ability level he has, he shouldn't be making the kind of impact he is in our program," said UCI Coach Dave Serrano, who makes no secret of his admiration for the 5-foot-11, 170-pound shortstop out of Simi Valley High.

"He works harder than anyone in our program and he has made himself the player that he is," Serrano said. "His knowledge of the game is well beyond his years and his passion for the game is unbelievable. He's the David Eckstein of college baseball."

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The player Orloff is this season is markedly more productive at the plate.

In 56 games as a freshman, including 42 starts — he opened the season at second base, but started the final 30 games at shortstop — Orloff hit .217. He posted nearly as many sacrifice hits (26) as base hits (33, all of which were singles).

He had at least one sacrifice in 22 games, including three games with at least two.

He had hits in 24 games, with six multiple-hit games. He had 16 RBIs and struck out just 10 times in 152 at-bats.

This season, Orloff, the only Anteater to start all 37 games, leads the team with 50 hits and is hitting .350, heading into today's 2 p.m. opener of a three-game Big West Conference series at UC Santa Barbara.

His bunting skills remain evident in his 15 sacrifice hits, and he remains difficult to fan, having been retired on strikes 12 times in 143 at-bats.

But, already with 13 RBIs and seven doubles, he is almost as likely to drive runners in as move them over this season.

"I worked hard last summer lifting weights and I put on about 15 pounds," said Orloff, who was named the Anteaters' Best Defensive Player and earned the team's Hustle-Attitude-Mentality Award at the 2006 team banquet. "And I worked a lot on my hitting, to be able to drive balls through the gaps and not just hit singles."

When it comes to developing his baseball talent, "work" is seldom the word Orloff chooses.

"The game is still so much fun to me," he said. "I love being able to play baseball every day. Even on our off days, I'll lift weights, then go and hit. It's just something I want to be doing."

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