IRVINE, Calif.—UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie was nonplussed when asked how Daniel Bibona’s performance Friday night stacked up with other Bibona outings over the last two years.
"I think it was pretty generic Bibona, which is good," Gillespie said. "I really don’t mean it to sound like it’s in anyway negative—it’s not. But what we saw tonight is what we typically see from him. He’s hard to get a lot of hits against, hard to have big innings against; he refuses to give in. He pitches off the plate, below the zone, and sometimes above the zone. For college hitters, sometimes it’s hard to lay off that.
"I’ve seen him throw close to 30 starts in two years, and I think this ranks among his good ones. He hasn’t had many games in two years where he hasn’t been good. He’s been very, very consistent, and we are spoiled by that, because we’ve come to expect him to be good everytime he’s out there. If he doesn’t like it, that’s tough—that’s just the way it is."
Bibona’s "generic" start, which ranks "among his good ones," was more than enough to lead the Anteaters to a 4-2 win against Fresno State. Bibona struck out 14 while walking two over 7 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs on five hits. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but hitters simply do not get good swings against him because of his ability to mix speeds and locations with three pitches. Early on, Bibona said, he worked mostly with his fastball and changeup, but he incorporated his slider more as the game progressed.
"He was outstanding; that’s why he was 11-1 before the game, and a first-team All-American," Fresno coach Mike Batesole said of Bibona. "He’s one of—if not the best—pitchers in the country. He’s got three strikeout pitches. I didn’t think his changeup was as effective tonight as the others. His curveball was outstanding, he threw his fastball just where he wanted it, and threw the other two right by you. He was outstanding—that’s why he is what he is."
He is one of the very best pitchers in America. No wonder Gillespie is spoiled.
One other note: Earlier, we discussed how Gillespie’s decision to start freshman Jordan Fox for just the fifth time this season paid off when Fox delivered a big two-run double in Irvine’s four-run fourth inning. Afterward, Gillespie offered a compelling explanation of his decision to play the freshman:
"Statistics will tell you he hasn’t had many opportunities, not many at-bats," Gillespie said. "But he just has hung in there and plugged away, given us really, really good at-bats. He has a history as a high school player of really being able to hit. He really, really hit in both his junior and senior year . . . We’ve really come to realize—this is a very unusual thing in my experience—he’s a better game hitter than he is a batting practice hitter. You see him hit every day in BP, you’re quite frankly not as impressed with him as you are in games. With a few at-bats, you start to think, ‘Just maybe.’ His bat speed dials up very noticeably in games. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he has strength and the ball really comes off his bat."
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