UCI baseball team's season special

June 18, 2011|By Barry Faulkner,

It is both an extreme compliment and a great injustice that the prevailing thought lingering from the 2011 UC Irvine baseball season is disappointment.

The Anteaters, after all, overcame great skepticism to come within one pitch of reaching the program's second College World Series. And Coach Mike Gillespie spoke all postseason about how this team, perhaps as much as any other of his 24 Division I squads, flirted with the fruition of its true potential.

It was a team that lost three All-American pitchers, constituting its weekend rotation and closer, from the 2010 unit that went 39-21 and lost to UCLA in the Los Angeles Regional.


In addition, expected returning ace Evan Brock, who will be a sophomore next spring, went down early last summer, requiring arm surgery that kept him out the entire campaign.

Four position players and another bullpen arm were drafted from the 2010 squad, though nine of the top 12 hitters returned in 2011.

Still, a near-vacant pitching lineup, as well as the departure of respected pitching coach Ted Silva, helped lower expectations and prompt Gillespie to soften a schedule that was RPI challenged.

Then junior Matt Summers blossomed into the program's fourth straight Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year and sophomore Matt Whitehouse emerged from obscurity to provide an above-average arm on Saturdays.

Crosby Slaught returned from arm surgery to add seven wins to his 16-3 career record and freshman Andrew Thurman made eight starts and went 4-3 in a rotation for which sophomore Kyle Hooper (3-0) made six starts.

Hooper finished with a staff-worst 4.06 earned-run average as first-year pitching coach Jason Dietrich helped guide the staff to an astounding 2.93 ERA.

The starting lineup, which changed only due to brief bouts with injuries, produced just more than 94% of the team's 324 runs batted in and helped compile a .296 team average.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the defense that ranked sixth in the country heading into the gut-wrenching Super Regional at Virginia, the No. 1 national seed that entered the best-of-three series 52-9, became a third strength for a roster that also boasted plenty of strong intangibles.

Summers, named second-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and third-team All-American by Baseball America, provided a final-weekend exclamation point to a 24-4 home campaign by tossing the program's fourth no-hitter.

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