Jun 14, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; UC Irvine Anteaters players Ryan Cooper (7), Jonathan Herkins (36) and Evan Brock (34) celebrate after defeating the Texas Longhorns during game one of the 2014 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. UC Irvine won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
UC IRVINE ANTEATERS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mike Gillespie
Record: 41-23, 15-9 in the Big West Conference (3rd place)
* Won Corvallis Regional, beating #1 seed Oregon State
* Won Super Regionals in Stillwater, OK, beating Oklahoma State
Connor Spencer, 1B – .368 average, led team with 44 RBIs and 89 hits
Taylor Sparks, 3B – .314 average, 5 home runs, 35 RBIs, 9 triples (led NCAA)
Jerry McClanahan, C – .315 average, 36 RBIs
Jun 14, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; UC Irvine Anteaters infielder Taylor Sparks (25) delivers a pitch against the Texas Longhorns during game one of the 2014 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. UC Irvine defeated Texas 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Morales: 11-2, 1.53 ERA, 141 strikeouts (led team)
Elliot Surrey: 8-4, 1.99 ERA
Sam Moore: 23 saves (leads NCAA), 1.88 ERA
A year ago it was the UCLA Bruins that made a big splash at the College World Series in Omaha, NE, using some dominant pitching to go undefeated in the post season and capture their first national championship.
This season it is a fellow institution of higher learning in the University of California system, located roughly 40 miles south of Westwood in Orange County, the Anteaters of UC Irvine, that are in Omaha for the second time in school history – their first trip being in 2007 – and are trying to win their first NCAA title.
Actually, it has been a great time to be affiliated with UC Irvine as either a student, an alum or a fan as on the same day that President Barack Obama was the featured speaker at the school’s commencement ceremonies at Angel Stadium in Anaheim in front of a very enthusiastic graduating class…
The Anteaters, who were among the last teams chosen for the NCAA tournament, scored yet another postseason upset in their opening game in Omaha, scoring three runs in the eighth inning against the Texas Longhorns, who are making a national record 35th appearance in the College World Series, and beat them 3-1 on Saturday.
The impressive thing about all of this is the fact that these Anteaters stumbled into the playoffs, losing their last six regular season games and eight of their last nine.
Like the Bruins the year before, UC Irvine is catching fire at the right time to this point.
Coach Mike Gillespie deserves much of the credit as his experience – he coached USC for 20 years and led the Trojans to an NCAA championship in 1998 before coming to Irvine, where he is in his 7th season – settled the team down and gave them the confidence to win six of their seven postseason contests.
Not bad for a squad that finished in third place in their conference.
Jun 14, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; UC Irvine Anteaters head coach Mike Gillespie (19) talks to pitcher Evan Manarino (21) and catcher Jerry McClanahan (11) during the game against the Texas Longhorns during game one of the 2014 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. UC Irvine won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Which coincidentally was where UCLA finished in the Pac-12 in 2013 before embarking on their playoff run and Omaha glory.
Having beaten Texas, the UC Irvine is in the winners’ bracket, where they will face another perennial baseball power in Vanderbilt on Monday at 5:00 p.m. (local time).
If the Anteaters beat Vandy’s Commodores, they will be in the semifinals on June 20th, with an eye on the best-of-three championship series beginning on June 23rd.
Unlike Texas, Vanderbilt, and the other five teams in the College World Series, UC Irvine has no football team.
They are by far the youngest program in the tournament, their baseball program having been revived in 2002 after being cut due to budget issues in 1992.
In fact, UC Irvine is the youngest college in Omaha as it opened its doors in 1964; it is widely considered a commuter school in the Los Angeles area, not as prominent sports-wise as their two neighbors to the north, USC and their older UC Bruin brothers in Westwood.
However, not only do these Anteaters care nothing about that, the way they are playing they feel they have as good a chance as anyone to capture the national title.
And I’m quite inclined to agree with that sentiment.