IRVINE, Calif.—Mike Gillespie said he knows “how deep in the hole” his UC Irvine team has found itself with regards to making a regional. After losing a series at UC Santa Barbara last weekend, the Anteaters ranked No. 74 in the Ratings Percentage Index heading into a huge Big West showdown against Cal Poly this weekend. The RPI Needs Report at Boyd’s World estimated that the ‘Eaters needed to with eight of their last 11 games to get their RPI into at-large range (the top 45).
Maybe the Anteaters don’t need to be perfect over the final three weeks, but they kicked off the crucial closing stretch with a performance that was pretty close to perfect. Irvine utterly dominated Poly in a 7-1 Friday, led by Andrew Thurman’s four-hit, complete-game gem.
“I think it clearly was our best performance, all things considered,” UCI coach Mike Gillespie said. “I mean, they’re good, their guy (ace Joey Wagman) has been good. Thurman was really good. I think we had quality at-bats up and down the lineup. So, it’s a dumb game. It was a good night for us.”
The ‘Eaters scored two runs in the first and never looked back. Taylor Sparks hit a soaring solo homer over the left-field fence, then added a drag bunt single and a run in the seventh, and an RBI triple to dead center field against hard-throwing Chase Johnson in the eighth. Sparks, a sophomore third baseman, ranked in BA’s predraft Top 200 coming out of high school, and he has started tapping into his significant potential this spring, hitting .357/.379/.595 with nine homers and 41 RBIs.
“He’s a special talent. He certainly has improved on his pitch selection, strike-zone discipline,” Gillespie said. “You saw the (fifth-inning) strikeout in the dirt, badly in the dirt, so he still fights that, obviously . . . He can drag, he runs, he’s good on defense. He’s a real prospect.”
So is Thurman (5-3, 2.98), who ranks 45th on BA’s Top 100 prospects list for the 2013 draft, released Friday. He did not show the 94-95 mph heat he flashed earlier this season in Friday’s outing, instead working at 90-92 and topping out at 93 a couple of times early in the game. But his 76-80 mph changeup was really working for him, as it usually is when he’s at his best.
“It’s been kind of up and down all season,” Thurman said of the changeup. “Tonight I definitely had it, and I was able to use it well. Pretty much in any count, to any hitter, left or right.”
He also used his short 78-80 slider for some strikeouts, and mixed in his 73-77 curveball effectively. More importantly, his command was sharp.
“The difference between when he’s real good and maybe not so good is, it’s all about command,” Gillespie said. “The changeup was so good for him tonight—he must have thrown 30 of them. So it was really important. He threw some quality breaking balls, but he had better command of the change.”
The rest of this series will be important for both teams. Thurman said the ‘Eaters face “must-win games from here on out, pretty much,” and he’s right. The Mustangs are in better RPI shape (No. 36 entering Friday), but they fell to 11-8 in the Big West, tied for fourth place.
On to the rest of Friday’s action. Inclement weather caused postponements or suspensions of six games involving a ranked team, but there were still plenty of highlights.
Top 25 Showdowns
• (6) Oregon State at (25) Stanford: Dylan Davis’ three-run double and Kavin Keyes’ two-run single highlighted OSU’s five-run fifth against Mark Appel (5 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 4 K), propelling the Beavers to a 7-3 win. Matt Boyd (6.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) improved to 10-2 for Oregon State, which extended its winning streak to 10 games thanks in part to its 16th consecutive quality start (six innings or more with three earned runs or fewer) in Pac-12 play. In three wins this season against potential first-rounders Appel, Marco Gonzales and Trevor Williams, Oregon State has scored 14 earned runs in 16 innings (7.88 ERA).
Top 25 Upsets
• (1) North Carolina at Georgia Tech: The bubble-dwelling Yellow Jackets need a statement weekend to bolster their at-large resume, and they got off to a good start with a 5-4 win in Friday’s opener. Mott Hyde broke a 4-4 tie with a walk-off solo homer in the ninth against Kent Emanuel (8 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). Daniel Palka worked two perfect innings in relief of Buck Farmer (7 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) to pick up his first career win, and Zane Evans (4-for-4, 2 RBI) hit his 14th homer of the year for the Jackets. Colin Moran hit his 13th long ball of the year for UNC.
• Tennessee at (11) Arkansas: Ethan Bennett (3-for-5, 5 RBI) led the Tennessee offense in support of Zack Godley (9 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K), who threw his fifth complete game of the season in the Volunteers’ 8-3 upset. Tennessee’s eight runs and 13 hits were the most allowed by the Razorbacks (which entered the game with a 1.77 ERA) in a single game this season. Barrett Astin (5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) fell to 4-3, and the Vols extended their lead with four runs against Brandon Moore.
• (13) Arizona State at California: Devon Rodriguez’s two-run single highlighted Cal’s three-run eighth against Trevor Williams (7.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K), leading the Golden Bears to a 3-1 win. Williams fell to 5-5 on the season, and the Sun Devils fell to 12-10 in the Pac-12, three games behind third-place UCLA and six games out of first.
• Memphis at (17) Rice: The Tigers broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the sixth to chase Austin Kubitza (5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 K), and Sam Moll (7.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) kept the Rice offense in check, leading Memphis to a 6-3 win. Ethan Gross and Drew Griffin had three hits apiece for the Tigers, who moved ahead of the Owls into second place in Conference USA.
• (18) Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State: Jason Hursh (9 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 9 K) threw 134 pitches in a gritty complete game, and Gage Green (3-for-4, R, RBI) delivered a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth to lift the Cowboys to a 4-3 win. The Sooners opted to hold Jonathan Gray until Saturday, instead starting Jake Fisher (4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) in the opener. Hector Lorenzana’s three-run homer in the fourth provided all of OU’s scoring. The game drew 9,194 fans in Tulsa.
• (23) South Florida at Seton Hall: The Pirates swept a crucial doubleheader, 3-2 and 5-4, extending their winning streak to 11 and moving them into a tie with USF at 15-5 in the Big East, not far behind 15-3 Pittsburgh and 14-4 Louisville. Seton Hall also jumped to No. 33 in the Warren Nolan RPI, and clinching this series puts the Pirates in outstanding position to earn an at-large berth. Jon Prosinski (7.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) was strong in a no-decision in the opener, and Giuseppe Papaccio (2-for-4) delivered a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth to beat Jimmy Herget (7.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER). In the nightcap, Sal Annunziata’s two-run single highlighted SHU’s four-run first in support of Greg Terhune (7.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K), and the Pirates held off USF’s comeback bid. USF made three errors, leading to four unearned runs against Nick Gonzalez (6.1 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 1 ER).
Other Top 25 Results
• (4) Cal State Fullerton at UC Riverside: Carlos Lopez (4-for-6, 2 R, 3 RBI) led Fullerton’s 17-hit barrage in support of Thomas Eshelman (5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K), as the Titans blasted the Highlanders 14-7. In case you forgot how remarkable Eshelman’s freshman season has been, he is now 9-2, 1.42 with 59 strikeouts and two walks in 89 innings. Coupled with Cal State Northridge’s loss to UC Santa Barbara, the Titans now lead the Big West by two games. They reached the 40-win plateau for the 27th time since beginning Division I play in 1975, and their 40-7 start is their best record through 47 games in D-I.
• Duke at (7) Virginia: The Cavaliers rallied from behind with three runs in the ninth, winning 6-5 on Nate Irvine’s walk-off RBI single. Virginia, playing its first game in nine days after breaking for exams, reached the 40-win mark for the eighth time in the last 10 years. Of note: Nick Howard filled in at shortstop for Branden Cogswell, who will miss at least the next two weeks with a broken middle finger. He will be re-evaluated before the ACC tournament.
• Arizona at (8) UCLA: Cody Regis hit a three-run double to highlight UCLA’s seven-run fourth inning, then delivered another three-run double in the seventh to lead the Bruins to a 10-2 win. Adam Plutko (6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K) improved to 7-2 for UCLA. The defending national champs fell to 10-12 in the Pac-12 and are stuck at No. 82 in the RPI, making the next two games of this series critical.
• Northwestern at (14) Indiana: The Hoosiers took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with a 3-1 win. Scott Effross (4.1 IP, 3, H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K) and three other relievers combined to allow just one run and four hits in seven combined innings after taking over for Joey DeNato (2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 K).
• Georgia at (15) South Carolina: Grayson Greiner (3-for-4, 2 R, RBI, 2B) led South Carolina’s balanced attack behind Nolan Belcher (7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) in a 7-2 win against Georgia. The Gamecocks’ seven runs were driven in by seven different players.
• (16) New Mexico at Fresno State: Josh Walker (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K) moved into the Friday starter spot and turned in his first career shutout, leading the Lobos to a 9-0 win. Walker retired the final 16 batters he faced and improved to 9-0 on the season. The Lobos won their 13th straight Mountain West game, extending their conference record, and recorded their 14th win in their last 15 games overall. D.J. Peterson hit his MWC-leading 14th homer of the season, a two-run shot in the seventh.
• Georgia Southern at (19) Clemson: Garrett Boulware and Mike Triller had two hits and two RBIs apiece in support of Daniel Gossett (7.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 12 K), leading the Tigers to a 7-1 win. Gossett retired the first 10 batters of the game and finished with a season high for strikeouts in a game.
• East Tennessee State won a fine pitcher’s duel against Mercer, 1-0, to pull within a game of the Bears for second place in the Atlantic-Sun. Kerry Doane (9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) improved to 11-1, 2.15 by throwing his Division I-leading 10th complete game of the season, and his fourth shutout.
• North Florida moved back into sole possession of first place in the A-Sun with an 8-7 win against Florida Gulf Coast in 11 innings. Ryan Roberson (3-for-5) delivered a walk-off RBI single up the middle in the 11th.
• William & Mary won the opener of a huge CAA series at UNC Wilmington, 5-1. Ryan Hissey (2-for-4, 2 RBI) led the Tribe offense in support of Brett Koehler (7 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K).
• Kansas State beat Kansas, 4-3, to take sole possession of first place in the Big 12 by a half-game over West Virginia (whose game was postponed). Mitch Meyer (2-for-5, 2 R, RBI) led K-State’s 10-hit attack behind Levi MaVorhis (5.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER). The next two games are very important for bubble-dwelling Kansas.
• San Diego slugger Kris Bryant (2-for-5, 3 R, 2 RBI) mashed his 26th homer of the year in a 15-3 rout of Portland.
• Campbell continued to find ways to win, taking down Liberty 2-1 in 13 innings. Ryan Thompson (5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K) improved to 7-0 with stellar relief work, and Nick Ray delivered a walk-off RBI single in the 13th for the Camels (41-9, 17-5 in the Big South).
• UC Santa Barbara continued its second-half surge, beating Cal State Northridge 6-1 behind Austin Pettibone (9 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K). The Gauchos have won four of their last five series (including sets against Poly and Irvine) to climb to 11-8 in the conference. Northridge remains in second place at 14-5.
• Tulane coach Rick Jones picked up his 800th career victory in an 8-1 win at Central Florida. Alex Byo (9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER) went the distance for the Green Wave, which rapped out 14 hits to beat Ben Lively (5 IP, 11 H, 7 ER).
• Nevada-Las Vegas knocked around Braden Shipley (5.2 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) in a 12-2 win against Nevada. The Rebels have beaten a pair of potential top-10 picks in Shipley and Appel. Joey Swanner (3-for-5, 5 RBI) led UNLV’s 11-hit attack.