The road to the College World Series officially began on Monday, May 28 when the NCAA selection committee announced which 64 college baseball teams would compete in the postseason for a chance to win a National Title.
When the announcement was made, the UC Irvine baseball team was granted an at-large bid. The team will make its second consecutive trip to the playoffs and also be looking for a little redemption, given last year’s quick exit.
A season ago, the Anteaters made the playoffs with a strong finish to the year but suffered two close losses to UCLA (3-2) and the University of Missouri (5-4) and were eliminated from postseason play.
It wasn’t exactly the way UCI Head Coach Dave Serrano had planned his first trip to the postseason with the Anteaters.
But that was last year.
This year the team is more experienced, more tested and holds a better record than the 2006 team.
UCI finished 2007 in second place in the Big West Conference, the highest finish in school history, and was ranked as high as 10th by Baseball America, one of the sport’s most prestigious publications. They also complied an impressive 40-15-1 overall record.
‘I think our experience is going to help us,’ Serrano said. ‘This is a different team, but this year’s team is better overall in regards to being teammates. Last year the guys were just there and not sure what to expect, but this year we are more confident and we are in [the tournament] to win it.’
Before they can start thinking of winning the tournament, the Anteaters will need a strong performance in the NCAA Regionals, which will take place from June 1 to 4.
Serrano likes the maturity of his team and indicated that pitching and defense will be instrumental to the success of the team.
‘I think they have grown up,’ Serrano said, explaining the difference between last year’s and this year’s team. ‘They have also been pitching good of late, and the further we go [in the playoffs] it’s going to be about getting great pitching and playing good defense. I think our guys have risen to the occasion and will continue to give us great starts.’
Pitching and defense have been a big reason why the Anteaters currently hold a 40-15-1 overall record, as they have compiled a 3.84 team ERA and averaged roughly one error per game.
The offense has complimented the pitching staff nicely this year, scoring just under seven runs per game, including a season-high 17 runs against the University of Washington in March and a recent 16-run outburst against the Big West Champions UC Riverside Highlanders on Sunday, May 27.
Serrano is pleased with the explosive power shown by the Anteaters’ bats but warned about depending on the offense to carry them into the College World Series.
‘It would be unrealistic to say that we can [score 10 runs a game] because you will always run into some good pitching staffs in the playoffs,’ Serrano said. ‘I would take it, though, because if we could [score a bunch of runs] we will be playing for a long time. But all that matters is that we score one more than the opponent.’
Last year Oregon State upset everyone and beat North Carolina for the championship. It’s not hard to believe that the current UCI team can replicate that success, and with two dominant front line starters