Alas, the postseason is upon us. After the Anteaters’ Saturday and Sunday victories over UC Santa Barbara, UCI has virtually secured a spot in the Regionals this week; however, it won’t be finalized until Monday morning. Unfortunately, it has been determined that UCI will not be hosting a regional game.
Although, last year’s postseason experience would indicate that the Anteaters have no problem playing in front of a rowdy opposing crowd. In fact, senior catcher Aaraon Lowenstein relishes the pressure.
“I want to go far—I love going far away. I want to go somewhere where we get 12,000 people rooting against us so we can go prove all wrong,” said Lowenstein.
“We went to Texas last year and we had 10,000 fans in their burnt orange colors chanting against us. They’re completely against us and we have our 50 fans going out there as the underdogs with something to prove in a hostile environment.”
So you’d rather play at Arizona State than Stanford?
“Eh, maybe not,” Lowenstein admits.
“I’d rather go to Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma or Nebraska. I love going to places where they just breathe baseball.”
Certainly that was the case last year in Wichita, Texas and Omaha.Obviously, it wasn’t until the 2007 Anteaters ran into a red-hot experienced Oregon State team that finally took down UCI late in the tournament.
It’s interesting to note that Oregon State wasn’t dominant in the regular season a year ago. They were experienced and picked up a ton of momentum when they started playing in familiar territory—must win playoff games.
Sounds a whole lot like this year’s Anteater squad.
“We expected to be in the Regional this year. Now that we have the older guys who have been there, we now know what to expect. We’re ready to get after it and we’re ready to roll. Now we just need to go do our thing. Hopefully it all comes together and we go back to Omaha,” Lowenstein said.
There’s no way to quantify experience, but by all accounts it shouldn’t be discounted the slightest. Head Coach Mike Gillespie, who knows a thing or two about college baseball postseason, is adamant about last year’s experience becoming extremely important this time of the year.
“I’m a big fan of experience. That’s why this Santa Barbara team is so talented. It’s anything but overrated. We’re going to lose key guys next year, but the guys who will be back will be more impressive,” Gillespie said.
Big West saves leader Eric Pettis concurs.
“After you go to Omaha, everything is a step down from that. When you’re used to playing in front of 30,000 guys, this is nothing,” Pettis said.
One of the big concerns for UCI heading into the Regional is whether the offense can achieve consistency and cohesiveness. On Saturday, the Anteaters showed that when pitcher’s leave pitches over the middle of the plate, they will be merciless. UCSB pitchers were tagged for 14 runs on 16 hits in the second game of the series, but when the Gauchos ace came on for the rubber-match Sunday, the offense couldn’t rely on another six run inning to put the game away—it took a sacrifice fly, and RBI bunt and a shutout performance. Luckily for the Anteaters, the pitching has been phenomenal all year and it is especailly tremendous right now.
“I don’t think if you’re a team in the Regional, you don’t want to see [our] pitching. I’m looking forward to it—a lot.”
Scott Gorgen, Bryce Stowell and Daniel Bibona could perhaps be the stingiest three-man starting rotation in the Regional.
Whether the terrific trio will carry UCI into Omaha depends on the defensive consistency as well. The Anteaters made eight errors in the three-game series versus UCSB—a habit that won’t fly against the nation’s best.
Nevertheless, the Anteaters have enjoyed stretches where the defense has been miscue-free. Perhaps the experience of the postseason will manifest success defensively. After all, the defensive mistakes have often been poor throws and bad reads on fly ball. It’s not that they lack athletcism or they’re sluggish tracking down balls, it’s more of a few mistakes that seem aberrational except for the fact that they happen a bit too frequently to be deemed an aberration.
Regardless, it’s now or never—put up or shutup—win or go home. The Anteaters have proven they have a dynamic group of pitchers that’s more than capable of shutting down any potent offense. While the offense has been under some scrutinity lately, the bats are undoubtedly going to deliver when the pitchers leave ball over the plate.
At this point, the Anteaters aren’t going to be making any adjustments. It’s time to play with the utmost confidence and realize they have as good a chance as anyone to roll through to Nebraska.
“We always say it’s just another game but it’s not. It is but it isn’t. We have to have the right mindset—knowing we’re going to win, not just hoping we’re going to win,” Lowenstein said.
It’s the last hoorah for seniors Lowenstein, Brock Bardeen, Josh Tavelli, Tom Calahan and Chris Lopez. Same goes for Scott Gorgen, Ollie Linton and probably Bryce Stowell, who will be swooped up in the Major League Baseball draft in June.
It’s time to finish some unfinished business.
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