'Eaters rebound to win

IRVINE — Four weekends into the Big West Conference baseball season, UC Irvine has affirmed itself as one of three clear-cut title contenders. Perhaps more importantly, the Anteaters have established a weekend rotation that appears worthy of contending for a title.

Sophomore Matt Whitehouse has emerged as what may be the final piece to UCI's pitching puzzle. The left-hander, who missed 13 days earlier this month with a strained hamstring and made the first 10 of his 15 appearances this season in relief, threw 7 1/3 strong innings Saturday to key a 6-1 win over conference visitor UC Davis.

The victory avenged an error-plagued 3-2 loss in 10 innings Friday and gave the Anteaters (26-10, 8-4 in conference), the series win over the Aggies (9-24, 3-6).

UCI, ranked No. 17 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. poll, ends the weekend in a tie for second with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which won two of three from conference-leading Cal State Fullerton. The Titans, who won two of three from the 'Eaters in early April, have a one-game advantage.

"[The race] is on and it's going to get tighter," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who said Whitehouse's performance solidifies him as the Sunday starter, behind Matt Summers (Friday) and Crosby Slaught (Saturday).

The weekend schedule was moved up one day this week, due to Easter. And Whitehouse has, until further notice, been moved up from reliever to mid-week starter to a more featured weekend role.

His work Saturday, in the longest outing of his career, included allowing just six hits and posting a career-best six strikeouts. He walked one and hit a batter and 65 of his 81 pitches were strikes.

"It was really frustrating to lose Whitehouse [to injury] like we did, because he was really good at USC [4 2/3 shutout innings in his first collegiate start to earn his first win on March 29]," Gillespie said. "He would have been in the rotation [if he had not been hurt]."

Whitehouse, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings with a start Tuesday against San Diego — giving him 10 of his 27 innings on the year this week — is now 2-0 with a 2.00 earned-run average. He has struck out 26 and walked nine.

Against San Diego, he threw just six balls among his 33 pitches.

"That's the key difference between last year and this year," Whitehouse said of his ability to pepper the strike zone. "[Undergraduate assistant and former Anteaters ace] Brett Smith says pitching can be as easy as you want it to be, or as tough as you want it to be. He says all you have to do is hit the [catcher's] glove. I'm going out there and competing and throwing the ball to the glove."

UCI had nine hits, including RBI singles by seniors Sean Madigan and Brian Hernandez during a three-run fifth inning.

In addition, UCI scored four runs on three sacrifice hits, including two on a squeeze bunt by junior Tommy Reyes in the second inning.

Senior Jon Hurst drove in another run with a squeeze bunt in the eighth and senior Drew Hillman drove in his team-leading 31st run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Hernandez was three for four to finish seven for 13 for the series, and Madigan went two for three to key a balanced attack.

All nine UCI starters either scored or drove in at least one run to up the 'Eaters' home record this season to 17-1.

Freshman Andrew Thurman worked 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief to cap the victory.

UCI visits UCLA on Tuesday at 6 p.m., before opening a three-game nonconference series at Cal State Bakersfield on Friday.


Big West Conference

UC Irvine 6, UC Davis 1


UCD 000 010 000 – 1 7 1

UCI 020 030 01x – 6 9 0

Kupbens, Stanwych (8) and Kalush; Whitehouse, Thurman (8) and Shaeffer. W – Whitehouse, 2-0. L – Kupbens, 3-5. 2B – Gottschling (UCI), Morgan (UCD). 3B – Grove (UCD).

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