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Conference Unbeaten UC Irvine Travels To Cal Poly For Key Big West Series

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12 BB Release-Week 8

4/3/2012

UC Irvine tries to stay unbeaten in Big West play but faces a tough challenge on the road in Cal Poly.  Both the Anteaters and Mustangs are receiving votes in this week's USA Today/ESPN poll.

AROUND THE BIG WEST

UC Irvine Emerges Unscathed After Week One Of Conference Play
UC Irvine was the big winner in week one of conference action as the only school to sweep its first series.  The Anteaters went 3-0 against Pacific to move to the top of the standings.  And they did it in dramatic fashion in the first two games of the series.

On Friday, Taylor Sparks provided the heroics as he blasted a two-run, walk off home run in the ninth to give UCI the 5-4 victory.  Sparks wasn’t finished as he lifted the Anteaters to victory again on Saturday, driving in a pair on a bases loaded single in the eighth in a 7-4 triumph.

The vaunted UCI pitching staff took over on Sunday and posted its third shutout of the 2012 season with a 6-0 win.  The Anteaters rank No. 18 nationally with a 2.88 earned run average.

Anteaters Travel To Cal Poly For Key Conference Series This Week
The marquee Big West series this week is a showdown between two of the expected contenders for the regular season title.  UC Irvine travels to Cal Poly for a special Thursday-Saturday three-game series around the Easter holiday.

The Anteaters (17-9, 3-0) were picked to finish second by the coaches in the Big West preseason poll, while the Mustangs (17-10, 1-2) were tabbed fourth.  UCI is playing hot of late, winning eight of its last nine games.  The Anteaters have pitched well all season, but a recent uptick in the offense has helped their cause.  Over the last nine games, UCI has scored at least five runs in all eight of the wins.  In contrast, the Anteaters scored less than five runs in 10 of their first 17 contests.

Meanwhile, Cal Poly has cooled off somewhat after a torrid start to the season.  The Mustangs are 5-5 in their last 10 games after a 12-5 start.  They suffered a disappointing end to their Big West opening series against Long Beach State last week, losing two of the three to the 49ers after scoring a total of nine runs for the entire series.  The UCI series concludes an 11-game homestand for the Mustangs.  They are currently 5-3 on that homestand.

In Other Big West Action
A full slate of Big West games is on the docket in addition to the Cal Poly and UC Irvine series.  Long Beach State, which opened Big West play with a key series win at Cal Poly, continues league action on the road this week against UC Riverside.  The Highlanders dropped two of three to UC Santa Barbara last week.  The Gauchos host Cal State Northridge while Cal State Fullerton welcomes UC Davis.  The Aggies are getting a late start to Big West play after participating in a four-game set against future conference member Hawai’i last week.  Pacific refrains from league competition this week, but is still active with a non-conference series against San Jose State.  Heading into week two, three teams sport 2-1 records – Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State.  Three clubs – Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside – are 1-2 after one week of play.  The Matadors handed preseason league favorite Cal State Fullerton a loss in last week’s series finale.  Pacific is the only Big West team that began conference action winless.

Hitting Streaks Go Down
The Big West’s top two longest hitting streaks were extinguished last week.  UC Santa Barbara junior Brett Vertigan had his 23-game streak snapped in the opening game of the UC Riverside series after he went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.  Cal Poly senior Mike Miller saw his 14-game hitting streak go down at the hands of Long Beach State’s Shawn Stuart, who silenced the Mustang bats to the tune of a one-hit shutout that earned him Big West Pitcher of the Week honors.  The conference’s longest current hitting streak now belongs to Cal State Northridge junior Cal Vogelsang, who has hit safely in 11 straight games.

On An Even Keel
The future for Cal State Northridge pitching looks bright with the addition of freshman Jerry Keel to the rotation.  Keel threw a gem in Sunday’s 5-1 win at No. 10 Cal State Fullerton, going the distance and scattering nine hits while walking two and striking out three.  He lifted his record to 2-1 and lowered his team-best ERA to 1.49.  Keel boasts the third-lowest ERA in the Big West and has managed to do so without overpowering anyone.  He has struck out only 22 batters in 42.1 innings pitched.  But there’s no denying his last four starts have been nothing short of impressive.  In those starts – Indiana, Portland, Saint Mary’s and Cal State Fullerton – Keel has allowed just four runs (two earned) over 26.2 innings for a miniscule 0.67 ERA.

Long Beach State Discovering One-Run Magic
No other team in the Big West knows one-run games like Long Beach State.  The 49ers have played in plenty of them.  Fourteen of them, to be exact.  Unfortunately, LBSU came out on the wrong end of most of those one-run affairs.  Nine of its losses have been by one run, contributing heavily to a 10-16 record.  But there’s hope.  The 49ers have won their last two one-run encounters – 3-2 against Wichita State (Mar. 25) and 4-3 versus Cal Poly (Mar. 30) – both victories on the road that improved LBSU’s record in one-run games to 5-9.  Pitching continues to carry the team.  LBSU is third in the Big West in ERA (3.52), while ranking last in average (.242).  But a few extra key hits could propel the 49ers into contention in the Big West race.

Quist On Quest
UC Davis pitcher Dayne Quist is having a stellar senior season.  He was the winning pitcher in last week’s only victory during a four-game trip to Hawai’i, tossing seven innings of four-hit ball and yielding just a pair of runs in a 5-3 triumph.  Quist has had six straight quality starts to the season as the most earned runs he has allowed in any outing was three.  And he has outfoxed hitters while piecing together a 4-0 record with an impressive 1.99 ERA.  Quist has recorded 48 strikeouts in 45.1 innings and has fanned six or more batters on five different occasions.  His 48 strikeouts rank second in the Big West.  Quist also has lasted at least six innings in each one of his starts.

Orozco Continues To Impress
Don’t blame Eddie Orozco for UC Riverside’s unaccustomed slow start at 8-13.  The senior hurler has accounted for four Highlander victories.  In his previous outing against UC Santa Barbara, Orozco shut down the high-powered Gaucho offense as he surrendered one run in seven innings.  In his last five starts, Orozco has notched a 1.00 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 36.0 innings pitched.  He has allowed one run or less in those five starts.