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Sports Newsmaker Of The Year:

Serrano Shocks

UC Irvine baseball coach was behind the feel-good story of the year, leading ’Eaters to CWS, but then left for Cal State Fullerton.

December 30, 2007|By Barry Faulkner

The announcement, made by the Cal State Fullerton media relations department Sept. 7, hit the UC Irvine baseball program and its supporters like a fastball to the eye socket. For, like the unprecedented postseason run that had just thrust UCI onto the national sports landscape, nobody saw this one coming.

Just seven days prior to being named baseball coach at Cal State Fullerton, where he had both played and coached, former UCI head man Dave Serrano had issued a statement disavowing any interest in replacing his mentor and friend, George Horton, who had left Fullerton for a big paycheck and a blank canvas at the University of Oregon.

Serrano had also been courted by Oregon, before pulling his name from consideration, a move that drew a collective sigh of relief from the players and supporters of a UCI program still floating from its third-place finish at the College World Series.

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In his third season at the UCI helm, Serrano and his coaching staff did what most outside of their pristine new offices in the just-christened $2.4 million Newkirk Pavilion — which also housed a clubhouse full of highly motivated and talented players — deemed beyond reason.

The Anteaters played for the Big West Conference crown into the final weekend of the regular season at UC Riverside, but came up just short.

UCI was then shipped to Texas for the NCAA Regionals, an assignment Serrano accepted with glee, confidently referring to the challenge of knocking off a program like the perennially strong Longhorns as part of the building blocks to national prominence.

It was, perhaps, the most blatant display of bravado to that point from Serrano, who had been selling his players on the reality of a trip to Omaha, where he had ventured many times with Cal State Fullerton, since he arrived at UCI.

It was one more instance, assistant coach Nathan Choate said, of Serrano’s “unbelievable ability to make people believe.”

To the surprise of most, UCI swept through the Longhorns to advance to the Super Regional, where the hard-fought best-of-three series at Wichita State began exposing ESPN audiences to both the ’Eaters’ determined and precise brand of baseball and the unrestricted joy with which they went about it.

A dramatic victory propelled them past the Shockers and into the program’s first World Series, a journey, unbeknownst to many, the players and coaches had planned for all along.

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