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College Baseball: UCI falling from elite

College Baseball

Anteaters miss postseason for second straight year and trend may continue in 2014.

June 05, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

A popular slogan asserts that tradition never graduates. But for UC Irvine baseball, its status as an elite program seems to be fading faster than it is being fortified.

For the second straight season, the Anteaters failed to qualify for the 64-team NCAA Regional field, a feat they accomplished six straight times from 2006 to 2011. That postseason run included three regionals titles and one super regional triumph, the latter creating an appearance in the 2007 College World Series.

And as those glory days recede into nostalgia, the state of the program appears to reflect more of a downward trend than a sudden resurrection.

Next year's roster will likely include just four players who have competed in the postseason and none of those have swung a bat on the collegiate game's biggest stage.

Offensive stars Taylor Sparks and Connor Spencer lead a handful of established position players set to anchor the 2014 Anteaters, who may potentially benefit from All-American pitcher Andrew Morales, should he not be plucked by the professional ranks.

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Shortstop Chris Rabago, catcher Jerry McClanahan and center fielder Dominique Taylor (should he not sign professionally), as well as pitchers Evan Brock and Mitch Merten bring experience and talent to the ranks of the returners.

But should Taylor get drafted and sign, the outfield would be a virtual void, and the pitching ranks also appear to be in grave need of fortification.

Add to that some noteworthy health issues with three of the five early signees and Coach Mike Gillespie and his staff would appear to be battling long odds to restore the somewhat recent luster to the program.

The 2013 campaign was, Gillespie said, as frustrating as he has ever had in 26 seasons as a Division I skipper. Despite sharing the Big West Conference lead in team batting average with champion Cal State Fullerton and ranking third in the conference in earned-run average, the 'Eaters (33-22, 15-12 in conference) finished tied for fourth place. UCI, ranked in at least one national top-25 poll for 12 weeks, lost six of its last eight and nine of its last 13, missing a chance to be one of conference's two at-large regional invitees. Included in the late-season slide was a five-game losing streak, the program's longest since 2004.

UCI split its 16 one-run games, as well as its 14 two-run contests, but was 4-8 in conference games decided by a single run and 1-3 in Big West contests with a two-run margin.

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