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Colleges: 'Eaters lacking an ace

March 26, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

When it comes to Big West Conference baseball the last three seasons, UC Irvine has been better on opening night than the most bankable Broadway star.

The Anteaters have opened 24 straight conference weekend series with victories, thanks in large part to ace pitchers who have captured the last four Big West Pitcher of the Year awards.

But when Anteaters (14-8 heading into Wednesday's home matchup with USC) open the conference schedule Friday at home against Pacific, Coach Mike Gillespie and Jason Dietrich, in his second season as pitching coach, will have a less-bona fide option to fill the marquee spot in any collegiate rotation.

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With 2011 ace Matt Summers, Danny Bibona (2010 and 2009) having proved to be unbeatable on Friday nights (or the occasional Thursday) against Big West foes the last two years, as well as 2008 Big West Pitcher of the Year Scott Gorgen all plying their trade professionally, UCI would already have to make due with an unproven Friday starter.

But injuries to Kyle Hooper, who had emerged as a vaunted ace until experiencing elbow pain during his outing at Nevada on March 16, and Matt Whitehouse, the top returner who has been sidelined by a balky rotator cuff, the 'Eaters will be hard-pressed to get off on the right, foot, er arm, against Big West rivals this season.

Hooper was had allowed just 11 hits and one earned run, with 25 strikeouts and only three walks in 23 innings, before giving up six hits and three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in Reno. After trying to tough it out through elbow pain he initially experienced in the third inning, Hooper threw two 75 mph fastballs, before being quickly removed. But swelling from his right elbow to his right hand ensued and an MRI was scheduled Monday to try to determine the severity of the injury.

Whitehouse, who has allowed 16 hits and six earned runs in 13 innings, has not yet completely shaken offseason injuries that continue to slow his progress. Gillespie said they are targeting his return for the Cal State Fullerton series that begins April 13. But with so little work, he can hardly be expected to assume the leading role.

Sophomore Andrew Thurman has been starting the second game of weekend series recently and has won his last two decisions. Crosby Slaught, a fifth-year senior who is 19-5 in his career, has been starting the series finales of late.

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