LOS ANGELES — Barring open tryouts at the student union, UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie is virtually out of ideas when it comes to finding a consistently effective mid-week starting pitcher.
For the fifth time in the last six Tuesday games, the Anteaters came up short, falling at Loyola Marymount, 7-2, in a nonconference game that added to a season-long trend. UCI is now 3-5 on Tuesday, the only day of the week it is worse than .500.
For the second straight Tuesday start, senior Mitch Merten was handed the loss, this time allowing three runs on six hits over three innings.
Before Merten, who was injured early and has made just two starts, it was junior Evan Manarino who eventually failed to hold the mid-week starting role. Now, with only three Tuesday games remaining as the season winds down, Gillespie is virtually left without an answer.
“Well, there is nobody else,” Gillespie said after his team, ranked No. 21 this week by Collegiate Baseball, fell to 24-12 against a Lions’ squad that is now 23-14. “It would be us recycling what we’ve done. I mean this is it; this is what we’ve got.”
Pitching, against which the Lions bashed 13 hits, including four triples and two doubles, wasn’t the only culprit. UCI managed just six hits, the lone extra-base knock coming with two outs in the ninth.
“We got sort of mowed down, dominated at the plate,” Gillespie said of the five pitchers used by the hosts, coached by former UCI assistant Jason Gill.
LMU starter Brenton Arriaga worked five shutout innings, allowing just three hits, while Tim Peabody and Bret Dahlson also blanked the ‘Eaters in their only inning on the bump.
LMU also played well defensively, with shortstop David Fletcher making one of the best plays of any season to rob Grant Palmer of a hit in the third inning. Fletcher ranged to his left to stab Palmer’s hard bouncer up the middle. Fletcher then spun 360 degrees to deliver an accurate throw to first that was just in time.
UCI did strand all four of the triples at third and left one of the doubles at second. But the four triples, two by Tanner Donnels, drove in four runs.
LMU senior first baseman Tommy Cheek used mere singles to drive in three runs, upping his RBI total to 38.
LMU also had three bunt singles to overcome striking out 12 times.
All four UCI pitchers, including Matt Fielding, Sean Sparling and Manarino, fanned three. Manarino’s strikeouts came in 1 1/3 perfect innings. But by then the damage had been done.
UCI trailed, 7-0, before it averted its third Tuesday shutout with two runs in the eighth. Paulino opened with a single, making him the fourth UCI hitter to start an inning by reaching first. John Bronsema followed with an infield single and Palmer walked to load the bases. Chris Rabago was then hit by a pitch for an RBI and Connor Spencer collected the final RBI when his fielder’s choice grounder off the pitcher’s glove was botched at the second-base bag.
Paulino and Jonathan Munoz had two hits apiece to pace the visitors, who, after playing host to San Diego State for three nonconference games Thursday through Saturday, catch a break in the schedule.
“It’s a good thing we don’t have a mid-week game next week,” Gillespie said.
Loyola Marymount 7, UC Irvine 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCI 000 000 020 – 2 6 0
LMU 102 000 40x – 7 13 1
Merten, Fielding (4), Sparling (6), Manarino (7) and McClanahan; Arriaga, Peabody (6), Horth (7), Fuentes (8), Dahlsen (9) and Brown. W – Arriaga, 3-2. L – Merten, 0-2. 2B – Brown (LMU), Boeke (LMU), Paulino (UCI). 3B – Donnels (LMU) 2, Trezek (LMU), Edwards (LMU).