UC Irvine is making the trip up to Corvallis for the NCAA Tournament, and while they won't face Oregon State on opening day, chances are the Beavers and Anteaters will meet up sometime this weekend. They open with second-seeded UNLV on Friday afternoon.
1. What's the plan for the rotation this weekend?
The rotation has truly played to be the backbone to the Eaters season, it was a question coming into the season as Coach Mike Gillespie had concerns of the pitching after Andrew Morales, but Elliott Surrey was able to hold down the load for a good half of the season. That being said, it would obviously be ideal for them to hold Morales off to face the Beavers, with the Eaters struggling as of late they need to ensure they got off the right start and are going to ride Morales as deep as they can. It may entirely be possible the Gillespie shows confidence in Surrey to take the ball when they play the Beavers, but that might be all dependent on how the first game against UNLV goes.
2. The Anteaters have lost eight of their last nine. Do you think they can break out of this slump, or is there no light at the end of the tunnel?
This is really the first slump the Eaters have faced this season. They saw early success throughout the year and were never really in a skid as they have been of late. That being said, I think their frustration from going from determining their own destiny in the Big West to losing 8 of their last 9 should motivate them to play better. A lot of those recent losses were losses by key parts of the team which have been the backbone to the team; Morales losing two straight, Sam Moore blowing his last 3 opportunities. The truth is, with 4 first team players in the Big West, and junior leaders of the team having a somewhat down season (Taylor Sparks, Chris Rabago), there is still plenty of hope for the Eaters as they feel they have face good competition throughout the year and can certainly at the very least put up a fight against the rolling Beavers.
3. What should we expect to see out of the UC Irvine bullpen? A mixture of relievers, or just a long reliever and a closer?
Honestly, with the pen under coach Gillespie it's always the luck of the draw. Gillespie knows his arms, and knows what they are capable of and can hand the ball to anyone at any given time. That being said with Moore closing in on the NCAA record in saves, Gillespie has been consistent with letting Moore come in for a two inning save. Other then that, look for Jimmy Litcfield, Evan Manarino, and even Kyle Davis to see some time if the starters can't get through 6.
4. Does UCI play a lot of small ball like Oregon State, or will we rarely see any sacrifice bunts?
Small ball is a big part of the Eaters game. With no one really as a "can't miss prospect" they have to do whatever they can to manage runs. This can be a little tricky as of late with Gillespie changing the lineup around due to their recent struggles at the plate, but outside of Spencer and Sparks, you won't see many balls leaving the park. Kris Paulino with the occasional hit and run and well at least for a large part of the season, situational, timely, two strike hitting to get the runner over.
5. Who should Beaver fans be watching for at the plate when the Anteaters are up?
For this year, the most consistent hitter has been Conner Spencer. He's third in the Big West in batting average and often comes out with a big RBI to get the team rolling. Jerry McClanahan also has had a clutch bat, but neither you would see really drive the ball into the bleachers. The big power bat in the line up for the past two years has been third basemen Taylor Sparks. With only 4 home runs this season, he's had a bit of a down year coming off his sophomore year. Sparks has the potential to at any given time hit some towering shots that can change the complexity of the game. That being said, part of the reason for his down season was the fact that he leads the team in strikeouts. It would be interesting to see if Gillespie brings him back to hit leadoff again as he tries whatever he can to sparks up that offense.
6. Prediction for this weekend?
The tournament is going to be tough, especially with the Eaters not playing their best ball that they have the potential to play. They are going up against UNLV first which has the potential to put up some runs on the board, so with Eaters offense struggling it's a crucial game if they can come out of the box with a W. I see Morales coming back on the mound and regaining his form to lift the 'Eaters past UNLV. With the arguably the best pitcher in the conference on their side, Irvine really needs to ride its pitching if they want to advance in the tournament.