SAN DIEGO — It's not often that UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie is prompted by the play of his team to be brief in the postgame meeting. But with a 5-0 nonconference triumph at the University of San Diego on Tuesday, the Anteaters left the veteran head man little with which to quibble.
"I thought it was one of those well-dones," Gillespie said after four pitchers combined on a four-hitter that was the UCI's staff's third shutout of the season. "We don't always get to say well done, but I thought it was."
The Anteaters (19-6), ranked No. 16 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, also received contributions from seven spots in their lineup to account for 11 hits and secure their fifth straight victory.
But for what appeared to be a shoulder strain sustained by junior first baseman Jordan Fox, which prompted the team's batting leader to be removed from the game after his second at-bat, the 'Eaters found plenty to enhance the upbeat mood they will take into the biggest series of the regular season.
UCI opens a three-game Big West Conference set at Cal State Fullerton on Friday at 7 p.m. The Titans were 20-8 with 12 wins in their last 13 games heading into the week. Saturday's game is at 6 p.m., with Sunday's series finale set for 2 p.m.
"We always get a little excited for that [series]," junior starter Crosby Slaught said of the first-place showdown with the Titans.
Slaught, who had missed just more than three weeks with tendinitis in his rotator cuff, gave UCI players, coaches and fans ample reason to be excited about his return to the rotation. He allowed one hit in three innings to earn the win. He is 4-0 this season and 12-0 as a starter during his collegiate career.
He said jitters surrounding his return led to him walking the first hitter on five pitches. He then retired six straight and nine of the next 10, before calling it a day.
Gillespie said Slaught's performance cast his name into the mix to make the start Sunday at Fullerton. That decision will be made later, Gillespie said, based on a number of factors, including how Slaught feels today.
"I'm ready to go against Fullerton," Slaught said.
Freshman Phil Ferragamo worked four innings, allowing just two hits. He walked one and struck out two.
Freshman Jimmy Litchfield worked the eighth, surrendering one hit, before freshman Drew Sandler struck out two in a perfect ninth in his collegiate mound debut.
Gillespie said Sandler, a star pitcher and catcher at Simi Valley High who had been used only behind the plate thus far, had recently asked to get a look on the bump, about the time Slaught was sidelined.
"[Sandler] pitched in a couple intra-squad games and we have just been looking for a chance to get him out there," Gillespie said. "Because, the fact is, he can [pitch] a little bit. We have some guys who we want to be good, but they're just not ready, and he's more advanced and really more prepared."
Junior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer continued his recent hot streak, going three for four with two runs batted in, one run and one stolen base. He now has nine RBIs the last four games after producing four in the first 22 games.
Senior left fielder Drew Hillman was two for four and junior Tommy Reyes, who came in for Fox, was two for three for the Anteaters.
Junior center fielder Christian Ramirez had a two-run triple to key a three-run fourth inning for the winners, who became the sixth team to blank the Toreros (7-19).
UCI is now 4-0 on Tuesdays.
UC Irvine 5, San Diego 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCI 000 300 200 – 5 11 0
USD 000 000 000 – 0 4 0
Slaught, Ferragamo (4), Litchfield (8), Sandler (9) and Shaeffer; Covey, MacNabb (2), Shannon (4), Bayless (7), Pazos (7), Youpel (8) and Sullivan. W – Slaught, 4-0. L – MacNabb, 0-2. 2B – Muno (USD). 3B – Ramirez (UCI).