College Baseball: UCI aim to tame Tigers

Daily Pilot

The UC Irvine baseball team battles defending national champion LSU in the first round of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional today at 2 p.m. at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium.

It is a rematch of the 2008 Super Regional in Baton Rouge, La., where the Tigers rallied from down, 7-4, with five runs in the ninth to win Game 2. LSU then blew out the Anteaters, 21-7, in the deciding third game to advance to the College World Series.

Senior Danny Bibona, named a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Thursday, will start on the mound for No. 21-ranked UCI (39-17).

Bibona has been out since May 7 with inflamed rib muscles. The two-time Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year is 9-2 with a 2.10 earned-run average with 100 strikeouts in 90 innings.

LSU will counter with junior right-hander Austin Ross (5-4 with a 5.07 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings).

"He's an excellent pitcher and I have the utmost respect for him," LSU Coach Paul Mainieri said of Bibona, who pitched 7 1/3 strong innings, allowing nine hits, three earned runs and striking out eight in a no-decision in the aforementioned Game 2 in 2008. "He is going to be a tremendous challenge. I can't imagine another No. 2 [regional] seed in the country facing a bigger challenge than Danny Bibona."

UCI, the No. 3 seed in the regional that also includes UCLA (43-13) and Kent State (39-23), has won its last nine Friday games. The Anteaters, runner-up in the Big West, are 12-2 on Friday this season, 26-3 on Friday the last two seasons and 50-9 on Friday the last four seasons.

LSU, which opened the season ranked No. 1, lost 14 of 18 games from April 24 through May 18, before winning two of three against Mississippi State to earn a berth in the SEC Tournament.

LSU then swept four games to win the conference tournament and come in with burgeoning confidence.

"I guess that's what LSU baseball has been known for," said LSU senior first baseman Blake Dean, who his hitting .344 with 11 home runs and a team-leading 69 runs batted in. "When the postseason comes along, the Tigers are ready to play."

Ross, who has thrown well in his last five starts to earn the starting nod over 6-foot-7 junior right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (5-2, 7.49 ERA), said the postseason surge has been a matter of relaxing.

"I think the pressure was off of us when we made it to the SEC Tournament," Ross said. "We stumbled the last four weeks of SEC [regular-season play] and went from being No. 1 in the country to not knowing if we were going to make it into the SEC Tournament. Once we made the SEC Tournament, the monkey was kind of off our back and we could just kind of relax."

The Tigers, with six national titles since 1991, are playing on the West Coast for the first time since 2003. It is their first regional outside of Baton Rouge since 1989.

LSU, which has 75 home runs and 75 stolen bases this season, are also bolstered by junior catcher Micah Gibbs (.392 with nine homers and 55 RBIs), senior Matt Gaudet (.289, 19 homers, 66 RBIs), and sophomore Mikie Mahtook (.335, 14 homers, 49 RBIs).

UCI, which also includes three-time first-team All-Big West pitcher Eric Pettis (9-3, 3.37 ERA and six saves), and second-team all-conference pitcher Christian Bergman (8-3. 3.82) has hit 33 home runs and stolen 36 bases.

Senior first baseman Jeff Cusick (379, eight homers, 56 RBIs), was a second-team all-conference pick, while junior third baseman Brian Hernandez (.333, four homers, 42 RBIs) and senior catcher Francis Larson (.299, five homers, 34 RBIs) were first-team all-conference honorees.

Senior second baseman Casey Stevenson (.318, four homers 38 RBIs) leads UCI in runs (59) and stolen bases (seven in eight attempts).

UCLA vs. Kent State Top-seeded UCLA meets Kent State in the other first-round game Friday at 6 p.m.

A look at those two teams:

UCLA – The Bruins, coached by former UCI head man John Savage, have set a school record for single-season wins. They are paced by second-team All-American starting pitchers Gerrit Cole (9-2, 3.27) and Trevor Bauer (9-3, 2.84).

The Bruins, runner-up to Arizona State in the Pac 10 and the No. 6 national seed, are led offensively by sophomore Dean Espy (.359, seven homers, 45 RBIs), sophomore Tyler Rahmatulla (.337, six homers, 41 RBIs) and junior Brett Krill (.290, seven homers, 36 RBIs).

Kent State – The Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference Tournament and enter the regional on a five-game winning streak. They have two additional winning streaks of six games this season.

The team is led offensively by Anthony Gallas (.367, 17 homers, 81 RBIs), Travis Shaw (.341, 15 homers, 60 RBIs) and Ben Klafczynski (.365, nine homers, 59 RBIs).

The Golden Flashes' team ERA is .5.06.

Los Angeles Regional Where: UCLA's Jackie Robinson StadiumWhen: Today through Monday (if necessary)Teams: UCLA Bruins (43-13); LSU Tigers (40-20); UC Irvine Anteaters (39-17); Kent State Golden Flashes (39-23)Matchups: UCI vs. LSU today at 2 p.m.; UCLA vs. Kent State today at 6 p.m.Radio: UCI's postseason games will be carried live on KUCI 88.9 FM.

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