IRVINE — There was barely a cloud in the sky Saturday at Anteater Ballpark, but still plenty of silver linings in a 5-0 nonconference baseball win that continued a feel-good, season-opening series against visiting Baylor.
Junior left-hander pitcher Matt Whitehouse, who was shut down early and later took a medical redshirt season in 2012, allowed two hits in 6 1/3 innings to earn his first victory in nearly two years.
Junior Kyle Hooper, another pitcher who was shut down due to arm trouble and took his own medical redshirt season in 2012, finished off the shutout to help the Anteaters (2-0) clinch the three-game series that concludes Sunday at 11:30 a.m.
Sophomore designated hitter Connor Spencer went two for three and had five straight hits until making an out in the seventh, paced a balanced offense. Five Anteaters drove in runs, including fifth-year senior first baseman-catcher Ronnie Shaeffer, yet another medical redshirt from 2012 who has three hits and two RBIs in what has become rehabilitation weekend.
UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who is now 31 wins from 1,000 as a Division I head coach, said he has been gratified to have some familiar faces back in between the foul lines contributing. Whitehouse (shoulder strain and tendinitis), Hooper (stress fracture in his right, pitching elbow) and Shaeffer (broken finger sustained in the 11th game last season), figure to bolster a UCI squad that may have been somewhat underrated to open 2013.
UCI, coming off a 31-25 season that did not produce a postseason berth for the first time in seven years, was ranked No. 30 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 33 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. coming in.
Baylor, which went 49-17, won the Big 12 regular-season crown and advanced to a super regional last season, was ranked No. 23 in the preseason by USA Today/ESPN.
"This is what we came out to do," said Whitehouse, who struck out six and walked one in an 84-pitch effort. "We wanted to get started right off the bat. I think we're ranked 33rd in one poll and I think that's a perfect spot to be, because we have something to prove. And that's what UCI is all about."
Hooper struck out four, allowed one hit and did not issue a walk in his season debut. Considered one of UCI's top four starters, Gillespie said Hooper might have started Sunday's game, had junior Evan Brock (who missed the 2011 season with a torn labrum) not been worthy of the nod due to his long, arduous comeback.
Whitehouse, who missed time in 2011with a pulled hamstring, then tweaked his right (landing) knee wile lifting weights and tried to compensate, resulting in the shoulder ailment the next season, has also worked hard to return to form.
"It's good to be out here and get that first [win] out of the way," Whitehouse said. "There was no surgery, just a lot of rehab and it took forever. It was a process, but I'm finally back where I need to be."
"To have Whitehouse healthy and to have Hooper healthy … Last year's bad news had this silver lining," Gillespie said. "And certainly Shaeffer has been good for us [so far] and it looks like he is good."
Sophomores Jerry McClanahan and Chris Rabago, as well as freshman pinch-hitter Grant Palmer, all singled in runs for UCI, which has produced 8 of its 11 runs this season with two outs.
UC Irvine 5, Baylor 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
Baylor 000 000 000 – 0 3 2
UCI 020 120 00x – 5 6 1
Garner, Bare (4), Kirkland (7), Stone (8) and Landes, Menard (8); Whitehouse, Hooper (7) and McClanahan. W – Whitehouse, 1-0. L – Garner, 0-1. 2B – Spencer (UCI), Rabago (UCI), Miller (BU). 3B – Gottschling (UCI).