UC Irvine remains in the hunt for a postseason bid as other Big West teams fight for a spot.
By ABBEY MASTRACCO FS West
IRVINE, Calif. — In a crucial Big West Conference series, UC Irvine fought its way to a big win over Cal Poly, taking two of three at home to effectively stay in the hunt for a postseason berth.
Anteaters (31-16, 13-8) got bookend wins behind two stellar performances from pitchers Andrew Thurman and Andrew Morales.
Thurman set the tone for the series with a complete game effort in a 7-1 win over Cal Poly (33-16, 12-9) in Friday night’s opener. Thurman, the junior right-hander projected as high as the first round in this year’s MLB Draft, scattered four hits and gave up just one earned run with seven strikeouts.
After a 4-3 Cal Poly win Saturday, the Anteaters slugged out 16 hits in an 11-1 Sunday win to clinch the series. Morales was masterful in seven innings, giving up four hits and striking out 10 to move to 10-0 on the season.
“It was a big win for us, a big game for our team,” Morales said. “We came out and actually set the tone in the first four innings hitting- and defensive-wise.”
For the Mustangs, who owned a an RPI of 36 coming into the series and were ranked as high as No. 22, it’s the their third series loss in the Big West. While their RPI is likely high enough to get them into the NCAA tournament, Cal Poly will need to win their last two series against Cal State Northridge and Pacific.
Coming into the weekend, five Big West teams were in the RPI top 100, with both UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine sitting right on the bubble at Nos. 71 and 75, respectively. While three at-large bids are unlikely, two is very likely.
“To me, it’s believable that (the Big West) might be,” Gillespie said. “We’ve got teams in this league that people would not be happy to see come to their regional.”
Gillespie has never been afraid to voice his displeasure in the way the selection committee has doled out at-large bids to conferences like the Big West, even going so far as to say that Cal Poly "got screwed" when the Mustangs, winners of 36, were left out of the postseason last year. Other than in 2008 when four Big West teams all made the postseason, the conference typically only receives one at-large bid.
“I’m real sensitive to the fact that this conference gets one or two and rarely three while there’s just a right of passage for four or five conferences every year to get five or six bids,” Gillespie said. “This is not the first time I’ve preached that.”
Performance of the series
While the series featured impressive pitching performances from both teams, it was UC Irvine third baseman Taylor Sparks that put up the biggest numbers at the plate. Sparks proved to be the offensive spark – no pun intended – the Anteaters needed hitting .538 with six RBIs and five runs scored.
Root canal problems
Morales kept his perfect record in tact and earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday’s game. The junior right-hander attributed his win to something a little unconventional: A root canal.
“I got a surprise root canal,” Morales said. “It was a cavity, my first one, and it didn’t feel very good.”
Morales jokingly said the procedure he had earlier in the week may have been lucky for him and is hoping to have the same luck next week at Cal State Fullerton considering he will be back in the dentist’s chair Monday for a follow up.
“Brush your teeth,” Morales said. “Actually, more floss than anything.”