LOS ANGLES — There was talk among UC Irvine players and coaches that the sore rib muscles that sidelined UCI senior All-American Danny Bibona for a month leading into the NCAA Los Angeles Regional was a blessing in disguise.
And while Bibona's return was less than impressive in Friday's opening loss to LSU, there is a chance that the aforementioned "blessing" could still render dividends.
UCI Coach Mike Gillespie announced after Saturday's 19-9 elimination-game win over Kent State that freshman Evan Brock will start Sunday's 2 p.m. game against LSU.
Brock was inserted into the weekend rotation during Bibona's absence and used those three starts to not only solidify himself as a valued contributor, but also provide glimpses that he is a future star.
In his last three starts, he has produced a 2.79 earned-run average over 19 1/3 innings. He has allowed 15 hits, walked six and struck out 16 while winning his only decision in that stretch.
For the season, the right-hander out of Ayala High in Chino Hills is 5-4 with a 3.00 ERA. Even more impressively, he has allowed just 27 hits in 57 innings. He has struck out 55 and walked 30, but has shown improved control recently.
Brock pitched 2 1/3 innings Friday against LSU, yielding no hits and one run while walking one and striking out two.
Gillespie said if UCI survives its first elimination game today, it would start "Superman" in the second game today.
"That would be Eric Pettis," Gillespie said of the rubber-armed senior All-American who has 40 career saves, and is 9-3 this season. Pettis has six saves in 2010, but his primary role has been as the Sunday starter. His 120 1/3 innings this season lead all Big West Conference hurlers and rank among the national leaders.
Gillespie said he and his staff would talk with his staff about the pitching plan for a possible regional championship game Monday when and if the Anteaters made it that far.
That plan, Gillespie said Saturday, might include either senior Christian Bergman or Bibona taking the ball for at least a limited number of innings.
Bergman, Saturday's winner, was lifted after five innings to preserve his possible availability for later in the regional. He threw 78 pitches while improving to 9-3.
Bibona threw 67 pitches Friday against LSU and was, reportedly spent when he was lifted after 4 1/3 innings of his first appearance since May 7.
Gillespie said the plan coming in was to use Bibona once in the regional. But that might change, he admitted.
Gillespie also mentioned that senior Kyle Necke, who has not pitched since May 22 and is reportedly dealing with a balky elbow, is waiting in the wings to be called upon out of the bullpen.
Another arm sure to see some work is sophomore Nick Hoover, who is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his last 14 innings, spanning six appearances. Hoover has allowed nine hits, walked seven and struck out 15 in that stretch, which included 1 1/3 scoreless innings Friday against LSU.
Rich Amaral, a former Major League outfielder who played at Estancia High and Orange Coast College, is doing double-duty this weekend at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Amaral is watching his son Beau, a freshman, lead off and play left field for UCLA.
He is also scouting players for the Kansas City Royals organization.
Gillespie was asked before the regional if he could foresee a surprise player emerging from those not in the opening-game starting lineup. No one came to mind.
But sophomore Jordan Leyland, who finished the regular season 0 for 15, has clearly become such a surprise.
Leyland doubled in the tying run as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning Friday against LSU.
He started at designated hitter Saturday and added a booming home run to another double. He is three for four in the regional with three RBIs.
Further, the 6-foot-4 slugger has seen his last five hits go for extra bases.
Gillespie said Leyland would likely remain in the lineup.
"That potential word hangs over his head," Gillespie said. "I've been looking for a chance to get him back in there and it's hard to deny what he did [Saturday] and what he did [Friday]."
Three UCI players made their postseason debuts Friday night against LSU.
Junior Brian Hernandez went one for six with a run batted in.
Drew Hillman, a junior transfer from Orange Coast College, went two for four and scored a run, while Jon Hurst, another junior transfer from Cypress College, went one for four.
Several other Anteaters had postseason firsts, including junior Ryan Fisher (first home run and first two runs), senior Francis Larson (first two homers), Leyland (first hit and first RBI) and sophomore D.J. Crumlich (first run scored).
Los Angeles Regional The Rematch: UC Irvine vs. LSUWhen: Today, 2 p.m.Where: UCLA