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UC Irvine brings its ‘A’ game

The metamorphosis for UC Irvine’s baseball team appears complete.

In 10 seasons since the program was resurrected, the Anteaters have gone from new kid on the block to gutty little upstart to the college baseball A-list.

Saturday evening brought another step in that journey. The Anteaters’ 4-3 victory over San Francisco in the NCAA regional at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium left them one victory shy of advancing to a super regional.

Irvine (41-16) can move on Sunday evening, when at 6 p.m. it faces the winner of the afternoon’s elimination game between San Francisco (32-24) and UCLA (34-23).

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Matt Whitehouse put the Anteaters in the spectator role for the afternoon game with a strong performance Saturday, allowing two earned runs in 81/3 innings.

Irvine nearly let things get away in the ninth, as the Dons scratched out two runs, the second one scoring on an RBI double by Ted Lemaster.

But Jimmy Litchfield struck out Mason Morioka for the final out to move the Anteaters to within one victory of their third super-regional appearance in five seasons.

“Clearly, we wanted to be the team that was 2-0" in the regional, Irvine Coach Mike Gillespie said. “We like being the team that is 2-0, but not as much as we’d like being the team that is 3-0.”

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Irvine has made a rapid climb in the college baseball world; this is its sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and seventh since 2004. That includes a College World Series appearance in 2007.

“I would like to think people have recognized what this program has become,” said Gillespie, who is in his fourth season. “There is no doubt about it in my mind.”

The Anteaters took a 4-0 lead with a three-run sixth inning that included Drew Hillman’s two-run home run.

Whitehouse (4-0), the team’s No. 2 starter since May 7, was strong through eight innings. He finished with seven strikeouts.

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San Francisco’s Matt Hiserman (6-4) nearly matched Whitehouse, pitching a complete game and giving up seven hits.

UCLA 3, Fresno State 1: By the time the Bruins’ Trevor Bauer was finished with his ninth consecutive complete game, it seemed clear that the Bulldogs’ best chance to get at him was before the game started.

Fresno State Coach Mike Batesole decided to have a serious discussion with home plate umpire Josh Schepis.

“We were just cleaning up a few ground rules from the other day,” Batesole said afterward.

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Truth be told — and UCLA catcher Steve Rodriquez went with the truth — Batesole was complaining about Bauer’s well-worn and faded cap.

“He said it was white and that made it illegal,” Rodriguez said. “The ump said it was team issue.”

Ground rules established, Bauer (13-2) struck out 14, giving him 203 on the season to break former USC pitcher Mark Pryor’s Pacific 10 Conference single-season record.

The Bruins stranded 14 runners, eight in scoring position. They were two for 11 with runners in scoring position.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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