Super Regional Weekend: UC Irvine Preview

UVa takes on UC-Irvine this weekend with a trip to Omaha on the line. Photo courtesy of Ms. Sarah Tolzmann

In 2009, as many will remember the Virginia Cavaliers were shipped out to the west coast to play UC Irvine in the regional portion of the NCAA tournament. UC Irvine at the time was the #6 national seed and expected to win their region even though it was the hardest in the tournament. Most will remember that the ‘Hoos swept through region to begin their march to Omaha.

This year, the roles have been reversed.

Irvine comes to Charlottesville for the first time in school history due to their winning of the UCLA region last weekend. Like the Cavaliers, the Anteaters didn’t lose a game last weekend but were highly fortunate to have to face either of UCLA’s top pitchers. Either way, Irvine is a strong team and not all that different than the UVa team we are all used to seeing. 

 Other than last weekend, Irvine has had another impressive year on the baseball diamond. So far, they’ve put together a 42-16 record and finished in second, behind Cal State Fullerton, in the Big West. While their record has been impressive, their schedule has not. One schedule ranking website has Irvine’s schedule as the 118th toughest (UVa’s is 27th). During the regular season, they only ended up playing games against four teams that would go on to make the NCAA tournament (UConn, Bethune Cookman, UCLA, and Cal-St Fullerton) and lost three series to Gonzaga, Fullerton, and Long Beach State.

At the plate, the Anteaters are lead by three upperclassmen. Brian Hernandez, Drew Hillman, and Jordan Fox are all batting over .333 on the year and don’t strike out often. Hillman seems to be the power hitter of the group. He leads the team in RBIs with 50 and the team with five home runs. If you want to see a team with almost identical hitting stats to UVa’s I suggest looking up UC Irvine’s. They don’t strike out often, they don’t hit a lot of home runs, they sacrifice outs to do the job, and they have a lot of hits.

After the tournament was announced, most were hoping that UCLA would win the Los Angeles regional and force a Gerritt Cole and Danny Hultzen matchup in the super regionals. While nobody would argue that UC-I has as strong a pitching staff as the Bruins, the Anteatears’ isn’t too bad either. Their ace, Matt Summers, was the Big West Pitcher of the Year and amassed an 11-2 record. He doesn’t walk many but does walk more batters than UVa’s pitchers. His most impressive stat is his 1.72 ERA. Not bad Mr. Summers. His great year helped him get drafted 148th overall on Tuesday by the Twins. I’m not positive who their other two starters will be, but their closer is set. Hernandez (who was mentioned earlier for being a strong player at the plate) has closed out 12 games for the anteaters.

There is no clear winner when comparing stats between UVa and UC-I. That is the way it should be with a trip to Omaha on the line. Other than my natural bias, I give the edge to the ‘Hoos this weekend. They have proven nearly every weekend this year that they can execute at a high level and have what it takes to win a championship.

Further, I believe Davenport Field is going to give a strong boost for UVa and possibly against the Anteaters.  So far this year, the biggest stage UC-I has played on was last weekend at UCLA. The Bruins’ Jackie Robinson stadium, I would estimate, can hold about 2000 fans, but it is rarely that crowded. The biggest crowd any of these players have faced was 4 years ago when UC-I went to LSU for the super regionals. There are seven current holdovers from that team that should be able to remember what a big crowd looks like. When the Anteaters step on the field on Saturday to the tune of 5000 orange-clad UVa fans I believe there might be an intimidation factor.

My prediction: I think Hultzen outduels Summers on Saturday and Tyler Wilson furthers his legend in UVa lore and wins his game Sunday giving UVa their second trip to the College World Series.

I’ll be there this weekend so if you see me, say hello! I’ll be providing updates as I can via twitter @STLUVaBaseball and all the games can be seen this weekend on ESPNU. This is usually the part where I say some famous alumni from the opponent told me they were rooting for UVa this weekend. Can anyone give me a single prominent alumni? Greg Louganis attended Irvine but hasn’t been relevant for 20 years. So, instead, I talked to my buddy Ryan Zimmerman the other day and he told me "Unfortunately I can’t be there this weekend because I am rehabbing so I can get make to raking for Will’s fantasy team. Wish I could but, GO HOOS!" 

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