College Baseball: Sparks tops UCI honorees

UC Irvine sophomore third baseman Taylor Sparks has been named Co-Field Player of the Year in the Big West Conference for baseball.

Sparks hit .422 with seven home runs and 32 runs batted in in 27 conference games, leading all Big West batsmen in all three categories. He finished batting .360 overall with a conference-best 10 homers, while adding 50 RBIs. He was successful on seven of 10 stolen-base attempts and was an above-average defender.

Sparks shared the honor with Cal State Fullerton senior Carlos Lopez, whose back-to-back walk-off homers helped the Titans sweep UCI in mid-May.

Also representing UCI on the first team were senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer, junior center fielder Dominique Taylor and junior starting pitcher Andrew Morales.

UCI junior first baseman Connor Spencer and junior starting pitcher Andrew Thurman were named to the second team.

Shaeffer hit .300 with three home runs and 35 RBIs overall. He also scored 31 times and threw out 17 of 32 would-be base-stealers. He was a first-team all-conference pick as a junior in 2011 and a second-team honoree as a freshman in 2009.

Taylor hit .309 with three homers and 34 RBIs for the Anteaters (33-22, 15-12 in conference), who finished in a three-way tie for fourth place and missed the postseason for the second straight season. Taylor, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College in Utah, shared the team lead with 42 runs scored. He had 14 doubles and four triples and posted a team-best 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Morales, a transfer from Rio Hondo Community College, went 10-0 with a 1.89 earned-run average in 13 starts and 17 appearances. He allowed 78 hits and struck out 85 in 95 1/3 innings, while walking 21. Morales won his conference starts against Hawaii, Cal State Northridge, Pacific, UC Davis and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Spencer led all Big West regulars with a .373 season batting average. He paced UCI with 19 doubles and shared the team lead in runs with 42. His 79 hits were one fewer than Sparks for the season and he walked as many times as he struck out (21).

Thurman, a first-team all-conference performer as a sophomore, finished 6-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 14 starts. He struck out 91 and allowed 85 hits in 100 1/3 innings. He walked 19. Thurman is expected to be selected in the first three rounds of the upcoming Major League Draft.

UCI sophomore shortstop Chris Rabago received honorable mention.

Cal State Fullerton dominated the individual awards, with freshman Justin Garza being named Pitcher of the Year, senior Richy Pedroza being named Defensive Player of the Year, Thomas Eschelman earning Freshman Pitcher of the Year and Rick Vanderhook repeating as Coach of the Year.

Robby Nesovic, a freshman designated hitter from UC Santa Barbara, was named Freshman Field Player of the Year.

— From staff reports

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