It didn't take UC Irvine senior Brian Hernandez long to identify the potential for revenge associated with the Anteaters' placement in the NCAA Los Angeles Regional hosted by UCLA was announced Monday morning.
Hernandez, the baseball team's star third baseman and closer, noticed quickly that by winning the four-team regional that also includes Fresno State (40-14) and San Francisco, UCI (39-16) could get a crack at Virginia, the No. 1 national seed, in the subsequent super regionals.
"Those are the last two teams that have knocked us out of the playoffs," Hernandez said of UCLA (33-22), which eliminated the 'Eaters to win the Los Angeles Regional last season on its way to a runner-up finish in the College World Series, and Virginia.
Virginia (49-9) eliminated UCI in the Irvine Regional in 2009, a grouping (with Fresno State and a Stephen Strasburg-led San Diego State) that some called the Regional of Death.
UCI, making its sixth straight regionals appearance and its seventh postseason trip in the last eight seasons, will open Friday at 2 p.m. against Fresno State, which shared the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship, then won the WAC Tournament.
UCI is the No. 3 seed in the regional. UCLA is seeded No. 1, Fresno State No. 2 and USF No. 4.
UCLA, the Pac-10 champion guided by former UCI head man John Savage, meets USF in the other first-round clash Friday at 6 p.m. The double-elimination tournament could extend through Monday, should a seventh game be required.
Its one of only two regionals in which every team won at least a share of its regular-season conference crown. The other is the Austin Regional that includes Texas, Princeton, Kent State and Texas State.
"Let's go," said Hernandez, who was redshirting in 2009, when UCI defeated Fresno State in the opener of the Irvine Regional.
UCLA and UCI split their two regular-season meetings and the Anteaters took note that ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson predicted on the live broadcast unveiling the 64-team tournament field that UCLA would win the national title.
"That definitely gives us a little edge and fires us up," Hernandez said. "UCLA is a good team, but we're excited and we know we're going to compete with them."
UCI junior ace Matt Summers, who no-hit Long Beach State in his final regular-season start Friday after pitching a two-hit shutout on May 20 at UC Riverside, is also confident in his team's chances.
"I think [the Bruins] are beatable," said Summers, whom Gillespie said he was leaning toward, though not yet committed to, starting against Fresno State. "It's definitely a tough regional and it's not going to be an easy road. But I think if we're on our game, [the Bruins] are beatable. We're definitely a better hitting club than they are."
Summers said he would prefer to let sophomore left-hander Matt Whitehouse start against Fresno State, leaving him to duel either Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole, both All-American juniors projected to be among the first five taken in the June draft.
"I want them. I want that matchup," said Summers (10-2 with a 1.74 earned-run average). I heard them talking about [Bauer and Cole] on TV and I don't see why they can't talk about me on TV. I want to go prove that I'm just as good as these guys and I want to go up against them and show them what I've got."
Summers, whom Gillespie said he expects to be taken in the second round of the draft, allowed a three-run home run to UCLA's Cody Regis during a five-inning relief appearance in UCI's 2010 finale at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The Bruins posted a 6-2 win that day.
"I'm more concerned about us putting the last two days [losses to visiting Long Beach State on Saturday and Sunday that left the Anteaters in second place, behind Big West champion Cal State Fullerton] than where we're going to play or who we're going to play," Gillespie said.
UCI is led by Hernandez (.354 with 29 RBIs and 12 saves with a 3-2 record and a 3.23 ERA), Summers and senior left fielder Drew Hillman (.347 with a team-best 47 RBIs and four home runs).
But UCI also has striking offensive balance with all nine regulars posting at least 25 RBIs.
The 'Eaters are hitting .299 as a team with a 2.95 staff ERA that includes Whitehouse (3-0, 2.14).
Junior Crosby Slaught (7-2, 3.97) and freshman Andrew Thurman (3-3, 3.82 with one save) are additional potential starting pitchers for UCI.
Fresno State, hitting .299 as a team, is led offensively by senior infielder Danny Muno (.340, three homers, 49 RBIs and 13 steals), junior outfielder Dusty Robinson (.318 with 16 homers to give him 47 for his career, and 54 RBIs) and senior first baseman Jordan Ribera (.249 with eight homers, giving him 44 career dingers including a national-best 27 in 2010, and 44 RBIs.
The Bulldogs, NCAA champions in 2008, have a 2.84 team ERA, paced by senior right-hander Greg Gonzalez (11-0, 1.43).