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College Baseball: UCI aims for postseason

UCI, leaning heavily on Thurman-led pitching staff, hopes to return to NCAA regional.

February 14, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(Steven Georges )

At the heart of the optimism surrounding UC Irvine baseball in 2013 is the center of the diamond.

At the center of skepticism circulating around the Anteaters this spring is the middle of the defense.

How both play out figure to be central factors in whether Coach Mike Gillespie's program finds itself in the middle of the postseason it missed out on last season for the first time in seven years.

Clearly, there is no middle ground when it comes to the crossroads faced by the 'Eaters this season. They can either earn a return to relevance on the national stage, or continue to fade toward the periphery.

"There are some things we know we like and some things we're worried about," said Gillespie, 72, who enters his sixth season after signing an offseason extension that places him at the helm through 2014. "I think it's a group that can be successful, we just have some things to worry about and figure out and solve."

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Foremost among the mysteries is the middle of the infield, about which Gillespie said he has as much apprehension as he has had in a quarter century as a Division I head coach. Gillespie, a member of the American Baseball Coaches Assn. Hall of Fame, enters 2012 with 967 career Division I victories.

"I'm actually disappointed to say that in my years [including 16 as head man at College of the Canyons], it has been very rare that any team I've been involved with that had a money defender at second base, third base and shortstop," Gillespie said. "I've had some premier college infielders, but rarely three guys on the same team. But this is the most concern [about infield defense] that I can ever remember having."

Questions remain about who will start at shortstop, third base and second base and Gillespie deems junior center fielder Dominique Taylor, a transfer from Salt Lake City Community College, an athletic, though raw defender.

There is strength behind the plate, where fifth-year senior Ronnie Shaeffer won the collegiate Gold Glove award in 2011 and sophomore Jerry McClanahan is considered a pro prospect.

But if a veteran pitching staff led by first-team All-Big West Conference junior Andrew Thurman is to achieve its potential, infield ground balls must be handled with consistent success.

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