IRVINE — In his fourth year in the UC Irvine baseball program, Kyle Hooper knows that there are consequences to less-than-stellar pitching. Among them is a conversion, more of a monologue really, with Anteaters’ veteran coach Mike Gillespie.
Such was the case after Hooper’s last outing on Thursday at BYU, in which he allowed two runs in one-third of an inning. Tacked on to his previous appearance on March 2 against Portland, Hooper had given up six runs on seven hits in his last six innings.
“I know I deserved getting blown up a little bit,” Hooper said of Gillespie’s, um, pep talk. “And that kind of motivated me for today.”
Hooper retired all 12 hitters he faced to earn the relief win in the Anteaters’ 4-2 nonconference triumph over visiting San Diego State on Tuesday.
“This was a 180-degree turnaround from the other day,” Gillespie said of Hooper’s hitless outing, in which he struck out four and walked none to earn his first win of the season. “I wasn’t kind to him [after his performance in Provo], but he was really strong [Tuesday] and I thought his demeanor, therefore, was much more like it has to be.”
Hooper, who missed last season with a stress fracture in his right pitching elbow and has, for now, been displaced from the weekend rotation that has junior Andrew Morales (leading the nation in wins at 5-0) starting on Sunday’s behind Friday ace Andrew Thurman and crafty left-hander Matt Whitehouse on Saturdays, finished up for Evan Brock.
Brock, still bouncing back after missing the 2011 season with a torn labrum, allowed seven hits and two runs, one earned. He struck out four and did not issue a walk.
“We’re not used to that kind of Tuesday pitching,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie has become used to consistent hitting and surprisingly strong defense. Both helped the hosts (13-4) Tuesday.
UCI, who came in with a .993 fielding percentage that ranked second in the nation, played its 10th consecutive errorless game. Senior right fielder Scott Gottschling highlighted the defensive effort with a sliding catch near the fence beyond foul territory along the right-field line in the third inning.
“It’s astounding to me and I can’t believe my eyes,” Gillespie said of a defense he feared before the season would be his team’s weak link.
Offensively, the Big West Conference’s top team in hitting (.318 coming in) and slugging (.425), combined extra-base hits with two well-executed squeeze bunts to top Coach Tony Gwynn’s Aztecs (7-10), who have lost five in a row.
Freshman designated hitter Grant Palmer was two for two with a sacrifice and a walk and drove in one run for the winners. He also scored one after tripling to lead off the fifth.
Gottschling was two for four with an RBI and he came around to score on Palmer’s single after doubling with two outs in the sixth. That run put UCI on top for good, 3-2.
Freshman second baseman Mikey Duarte’s bunt single in the fifth plated Palmer and Gottschling delivered a squeeze bunt that scored Ryan Cooper to cap the scoring in the seventh.
San Diego State scored single runs in the fourth and the fifth, the latter on a wild pitch.
UCI plays host to Nebraska in a three-game nonconference series beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m.
UC Irvine 4, San Diego State 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
SDS 000 110 000 – 2 7 0
UCI 000 021 01x – 4 9 0
Robards. Sapp (6), Kendzora (7), Crabb (8), Oakley (9) and Haynal; Brock, Hooper (6) and Shaeffer. W – Hooper, 1-0. L – Sapp, 0-1. 2B – Romanski (SDSU), Spencer (UCI), Gottschling (UCI). 3B – Palmer (UCI).