Bergman turns it up

Daily Pilot

IRVINE — UC Irvine senior Christian Bergman lowered his arm slot heading into Friday's Big West Conference series opener against visiting UC Santa Barbara.

But it was lowering the bar that Bergman was most concerned about.

Taking over for usual Friday night starter Danny Bibona, a senior All-American who has not lost a series opener against a conference opponent in 13 tries (12 wins and one no decision), Bergman made sure the Anteaters' opening act did not skip a beat.

Bergman provided 7 1/3 strong innings as the most noteworthy of four UCI pitchers who combined to blank the Gauchos, 4-0. The win marked the 14th straight time the Anteaters (31-16, 11-5 in conference) opened a conference series on a winning note. The last time UCI dropped a Big West series opener was against UCSB in May of 2008.

Bergman, relievers Kyle Necke, Andy Lines and Eric Pettis extended another streak by limiting UCSB to seven hits. Including the final 25 outs of a 2-1 nonconference win over visiting UCLA on Tuesday, the UCI staff has now worked 17 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

"I just came out thinking I want to do what Danny would come out here and do, and represent the staff well, even with him down," said Bergman, who was pushed up a day from his usual Saturday duty with Bibona nursing inflamed rib muscles.

"You want to come out here and set the tone, because it's the first game [of a series]. Danny does a good job of doing that and I just happened to do it tonight. This was my first Friday night start. It's a privilege to start on Friday for a program like this."

UCI Coach Mike Gillespie gave Bergman full credit for turning his first Friday start into one of the best outings of his career, certainly one of the most meaningful.

"With the situation with Bibona and the way things are, I really felt like this could be the most important game of the year," Gillespie said. "When we look back, depending on how we do the rest of the way, that might be the way we feel. We'll see, but no matter how you cut it, it was really important. I would hope it would give everybody a lift. It sure should."

Bergman helped provide that lift with the help of his familiar sink.

The ground-ball pitcher had a no-hitter through five innings and surrendered just two hits through seven, before three singles loaded the bases and prompted his departure with one out in the eighth.

"He and [Silva] agreed to lower his arm slot a little bit, in an attempt to get the ball down," Gillespie said of an adjustment that followed Bergman allowing 11 hits and eight runs in 3 2/3 combined innings his previous two appearances. Those two outings followed back-to-back starts in which Bergman gave up a combined five hits and two runs in 17 1/3 innings, including a one-hit shutout April 24 at UC Davis.

"He pounded the strike zone [fanning five and walking none with 68 of 98 pitches being strikes], which was critical," Gillespie said. "I think he did a real good job; very good."

Said Bergman, "[The adjustment] gave me a little more sink. I had kind of gotten away from that the past few weeks. It's just a game of making adjustments every week to try to find something that works. Hopefully, I can build off this."

Necke left the bases loaded by getting the final two outs of the eighth inning and Pettis retired the three hitters he faced in the ninth after two Gauchos singled off Necke, then Lines to start the frame.

It was the sixth save of the season for Pettis, the 40th of his career.

Ronnie Shaeffer drove in the game's first run in the first inning, while D.J. Crumlich and Brian Hernandez were also offensive heroes for the winners.

Crumlich was two for four with two runs batted in and Hernandez was three for three with one RBI.

UCSB, which received a strong start from junior left-hander Mario Hollands (two runs on nine hits in seven innings) fell to 20-24, 6-10.

"[Hollands] is a bona-fide all-conference pitcher ... one of the better guys in the league," Gillespie said.

Freshman Evan Brock, who posted his first save with three scoreless innings against UCLA, makes his first conference start today at 1 p.m.

Big West Conference UC Irvine 4, UCSB 0 SCORE BY INNINGS

UCSB000000000 — 071UCI

10010011X — 4110Hollands, Meals (8) and Camou; Bergman, Necke (8). Lines (9), Pettis (9) and Larson. W – Bergman, 6-3. L – Hollands, 4-4. Sv – Pettis (6). 2B – Stevenson (UCI), Madigan (UCI), Hernandez (UCI).

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