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'Eaters rebound to win

College Baseball

Whitehouse's strong start helps UCI top UC Davis and claim Big West series victory to stay tied for second.

April 23, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com

IRVINE — Four weekends into the Big West Conference baseball season, UC Irvine has affirmed itself as one of three clear-cut title contenders. Perhaps more importantly, the Anteaters have established a weekend rotation that appears worthy of contending for a title.

Sophomore Matt Whitehouse has emerged as what may be the final piece to UCI's pitching puzzle. The left-hander, who missed 13 days earlier this month with a strained hamstring and made the first 10 of his 15 appearances this season in relief, threw 7 1/3 strong innings Saturday to key a 6-1 win over conference visitor UC Davis.

The victory avenged an error-plagued 3-2 loss in 10 innings Friday and gave the Anteaters (26-10, 8-4 in conference), the series win over the Aggies (9-24, 3-6).

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UCI, ranked No. 17 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. poll, ends the weekend in a tie for second with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which won two of three from conference-leading Cal State Fullerton. The Titans, who won two of three from the 'Eaters in early April, have a one-game advantage.

"[The race] is on and it's going to get tighter," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who said Whitehouse's performance solidifies him as the Sunday starter, behind Matt Summers (Friday) and Crosby Slaught (Saturday).

The weekend schedule was moved up one day this week, due to Easter. And Whitehouse has, until further notice, been moved up from reliever to mid-week starter to a more featured weekend role.

His work Saturday, in the longest outing of his career, included allowing just six hits and posting a career-best six strikeouts. He walked one and hit a batter and 65 of his 81 pitches were strikes.

"It was really frustrating to lose Whitehouse [to injury] like we did, because he was really good at USC [4 2/3 shutout innings in his first collegiate start to earn his first win on March 29]," Gillespie said. "He would have been in the rotation [if he had not been hurt]."

Whitehouse, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings with a start Tuesday against San Diego — giving him 10 of his 27 innings on the year this week — is now 2-0 with a 2.00 earned-run average. He has struck out 26 and walked nine.

Against San Diego, he threw just six balls among his 33 pitches.

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