Minnesota Golden Gophers (36-22, Big Ten 16-7) at UC Irvine Anteaters (31-25, Big West 11-13)
Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark (3,408) - Irvine, Calif.
KUCI 88.9 FM with Mark Roberts and Tim Becwar. All games also available live on the internet at kuci.org.
Live stats are available for every Anteater baseball game through ucirvinesports.com and the UCI Sports Front Row app.
+ The Anteaters are picked to finish in fifth place in the Big West, the lowest preseason ranking under Head Coach Mike Gillespie
+ Every season that UCI has been projected to finish worse than second, it has finished higher (2008, 2014, 2015)
+ The Anteaters received one first-place vote, the other eight went to projected champion Cal State Fullerton. UCI has received at least one first-place vote in five of the last six seasons
+ Gillespie claims the toughest schedule they've put together in his 10 seasons at the helm. UCI's opponents boast an overall winning percentage of .524 from last season
+ UCI's non-conference schedule includes the unanimous preseason No. 1 program in TCU along with a pair of schools picked to win their conferences (Seattle, San Diego) and one picked to finish second in Houston.
+ Non-conference weekend opponents have a combined .581 winning percentage coming off 2016
+ UC Irvine's weekend opponents visiting Anteater Ballpark has a total win percentage of .557 coming off 2016
+ The Big West Conference as a whole rated the eighth-strongest in the nation following 2016. Three schools are ranked throughout the preseason polls including Long Beach State who will visit Anteater Ballpark. UCI is receiving votes in the NCBWA poll
WHO'S ON DECK
+ The Anteaters roll out a mix of new and familiar faces with the departure of players like SS John Brontsema and Friday starter Elliot Surrey to the draft as well as graduating alums Mitchell Holland, Grant Palmer, and Jonathan Muñoz:
+ The pitching staff will be anchored by Cameron Bishop on Friday nights who began to tap into that true potential down the stretch in 2016. Falling in line behind Bishop are a stable of horses vying for spots. Newcomers Louis Raymond from the junior college ranks and Andre Pallante a promising freshman join up with veteran Alonzo Garcia to give the 'Eaters four starters.
+ The bullpen begins and ends with Calvin Faucher who was lights-out in the closer role, and carried that into a championship summer season in the Cape Cod League. The rest of the arms have some experience with the search on for who will seize their opportunity between Ben Ritchey, Miles Glazier, Sean Sparling, Michael Martin, Shaun Vetrovec, Jordan Bocko, and Chris Vargas along with a slew of newcomers ready to make a mark.
+ The outfield will shift some with the departure from Keston Hiura, now locked in as DH. Adam Alcantara and Evan Cassolato bring a senior leadership to the daunting task of covering Anteater Ballpark's outfield. A platoon of others will fight for time in left field including JC transfer Devin Pettengill, sophomore speedster Jake Hazard, and freshman talents Adrian Damla, Dailin Lee, and redshirt Mikey Filia.
+ The infield gets even stronger with the return of a healthy Mikey Duarte at short. Parker Coss made great strides in the Northwoods League ready to command third base. Cole Kreuter will be a presence at second base while JC transfer Ryan Fitzpatrick brings a similar game to Holland at the first base position. The wild card is freshman Christian Koss who stood out in summer league ball and can play around the infield adding immense depth. Damla comes in primarily as a first baseman to follow Fitzpatrick with a valuable left-handed bat. The catching position is all Alex Guenette until Matt Reitano and Griffin Mazur return to form. Senior Edgar Ruvalcaba could be prominent, and Ryan Johnston has been working to add some depth.
GREATEST AMERICAN HIURA
+ Keston Hiura has earned the spotlight early on being named to five Preseason All-American lists from publications such as Baseball American, the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association, D1Baseball.com, Collegiate Baseball News, and Perfect Game USA
+ Hiura's most recent accolade was a return to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List for the second year in a row. USA Baseball's list of 55 players also includes two high school players, one of which is Royce Lewis who signed his NLI to UCI back in November.
+ He spent the summer with the U.S. Collegiate National Team on their global trip to play national teams in Taiwan, Japan, and Cuba. Hiura hit .289 hitting three homers and driving in six including a go-ahead HR in Cuba to give the team its first-ever series win at Cuba
+ In 103 career games, Hiura has failed to reach base just seven times while producing 143 hits, 28 doubles, 89 RBIs, and 11 sac flies.
+ Hiura was named to the Golden Spikes Award Midseason and Preseason Watch List named as one of the top 60 players in the country in 2016. Additionally, he was named a Preseason All-American by the NCBWA, D1Baseball.com, and Perfect Game heading into his sophomore season
+ Hiura started off the UCLA series with a five-hit game, the first of his career and 22nd in program history. This came on the heels of a three-hit day at UNLV putting him 8 for his last 10 following Friday.
+ Hiura produced another statistical anomaly in Hawai'i. The Anteaters had 19 hits with eight starters going for multiple hits, however, Hiura was not one of them. He did score twice.
+ He reached base in all five plate appearances in a Saturday night win over UTSA with two singles, a walk, and two hit by pitch. This was right on the heels of his performance against Nevada when he reached on all seven plate appearances: single, double, triple, two-out bunt single in the ninth, and three walks. He also scored three times and drove home a run to help UCI erase a five-run deficit entering the eighth inning and win, 8-7, in 10 innings.
+ Hiura homered in the first and sixth innings at LMU on March 1 for his first career 2-HR game. It was the 26th 2-HR game in program history and gave him four HRs in four games.
+ The sophomore landed on four freshman All-American lists including the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association (NCBWA), D1Baseball.com, Baseball America, and Collegiate Baseball.
+ Hiura was named Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year, a first for the program, and made the All-West Region team, the third straight season an Anteater made it, following a 2015 campaign where he landed near the top of many Anteater freshman records including second in doubles (18), hits (75), and at-bats (227) while setting new marks with seven home runs and 52 RBIs.
+ Hiura's arm issues have drawn the interest of many in the college and professional ranks alike. Baseball America's John Manuel and the3rdmanin.com's Dan Zielinski have each written about Hiura's offseason dealing with a partial tear in his elbow. Hiura was completely shut down for a majority of it, and underwent platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment in January to aid in the recovery. For now, he will be limited to DH duty early in the season while the progress of his arm is monitored
+ The 'Eaters are without the services of two of their catchers to start the seasons. Matt Reitano is still recovering from a meniscus injury and will not be ready for opening day. Fellow sophomore Griffin Mazur is also on the mend with a foot injury that has him walking around in a boot
+ The bullpen will be without the services of left-hander Dylan Riddle in 2017 as he recovers from a fractured collarbone
KEEPIN' IT ISRAEL
+ UCI's ties to the World Baseball Classic return in 2017 as Dylan Axelrod will represent on the pitching staff for Team Israel. They will open the entire tournament against Korea Republic on March 6 and play against Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands in Pool A. Axelrod will be the first Anteater to play in the actual tournament
+ The 'Eaters had alum Dominique Taylor play center field for Team Germany in the qualifiers last year. Previously, associate head coach Ben Orloff also played for Israel back in the 2012 qualifiers
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
Minnesota might not jump out as a heralded baseball factory, but the Gophers have been to the College World Series six times and have three National titles to their name. Major Leaguers like Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Denny Neagle are alums, as is head coach John Anderson, now in his 36th season with 1,208 career wins. Anderson has taken Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament 18 times including last year losing in the regional final to Texas A&M.
The 2016 Gophers stacked up with anybody hitting .321, seventh-best in the country, and mashing 50 home runs, part of their 23rd-ranked slugging. Most of the main contributors moved on including their leaders in every offensive category, but 3B Micah Coffey (42 RBI) and SS Terrin Vavra (.358) return.
The defensive side brought it as well as the seventh-best fielding team in the nation behind a pitching staff with a collective ERA of 3.89. Friday starter Toby Anderson wove a 7-1 record despite only 34 strikeouts in 76 innings. Lucas Gilbreath posted a 1.36 ERA allowing just five earned runs out of the bullpen.
Minnesota was put through the test and passed it as one of a handful of schools to score 20+ non-conference wins on the year, and their 18 road victories were sixth-most in the NCAA. The Gophers start on the road again, every season since 2001, and they haven't played at home before March 22 since 2013. Three of their last four opening series have been in this time zone putting together a 7-3 record vs. schools like Oregon State, Utah, and UCLA.
For UC Irvine Athletics ticket information, please call (949) 824-5000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information click here.
For information on how you can help support UC Irvine Athletics, please call (949) 824-6933 or e-mail email@example.com. For additional information, click here.
You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and by downloading the UCI Front Row app, available free to all Anteater fans through iTunes and Google Play, to view schedules, results, and up-to-the-minute news.