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The fifth time was the charm for Mike Gillespie. After leading UC Irvine to five NCAA Tournament berths in seven years, the 2014 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Coach of the Year tacked on a fifth College World Series appearance to an already prominent coaching resume. It was the second post-season trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the Anteaters, who posted a 41-25 overall record, the fourth time a Gillespie-led team has reached the 40-win plateau. UCI toppled No. 1 Oregon State in regional action and followed that with a two-game sweep of Oklahoma State at the NCAA Super Regionals to reach the CWS. There the team handed Texas a 3-1 loss in the opening game before losing to Vanderbilt and the Longhorns to end the post-season run. At the end of the year, UCI was ranked in the top 10 in four polls with its highest rank of No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball.
The season was not without its bumps in the road. Gillespie’s Anteaters started strong, winning 12 of the first 15 games to open the season. The team posted a pair of win streaks, registering a 10-game stretch and then adding nine straight wins during Big West action. However, the Anteaters stumbled at the end of the regular-season, losing eight of the last nine contests. Still, the team earned an NCAA postseason berth, its eighth since reinstating baseball in 2002 and went on an incredible run that caught many of the baseball pundits off guard. Anteater pitching, long one of the foundations of the program, led the way again in 2014 as the staff logged a 2.76 earned run average, the best in program history. It was just the second time a UCI team had recorded a team ERA below 3.00. Pitchers Andrew Morales and Sam Moore both collected All-America honors. Morales was named the Senior CLASS Award winner while Moore won the Gregg Olsen “Breakout Player of the Year” accolade. Five Anteaters were drafted by Major League Organizations in the First-Year Player Draft and five also earned All-Big West Conference nods.
Gillespie, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, reached a personal milestone last year, collecting his 1000th career win early in the year. He boasts a Division I lifetime record of 1037-615-2 and is in the top 30 among active coaches with a .657 win percentage. As the
Anteater manager, Gillespie has produced the program’s only two Big West Players of the Year with Taylor Sparks, the most recent honoree winning the award in 2013. Ben Orloff, who was UCI’s inaugural Big West Player of the Year in 2009, is now an assistant coach on Gillespie’s staff.
Over seven seasons, Gillespie has produced 49 all-conference recipients, including a program -record 10 in 2009 when he led the Anteaters to their first conference title. In his tenure, an Anteater pitcher claimed Big West Pitcher of the Year honors five times from 2008-2014 and Big West Defensive Players of the Year, Brian Hernandez and D.J, Crumlich won the distinction back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012 under Gillespie’s guidance. Gillespie has proven to be a master at building successful programs with his Anteater teams recording 35-win seasons five times and finishing fourth or better in the competitive Big West Conference all seven years of his tenure.
Gillespie was hired in the fall of 2007, becoming the baseball program’s eighth head coach. In 2008, the Anteaters kicked off the year with a 16-1 mark for the program’s best start. UCI lost just two weekend series in the regular season and went on to advance to the NCAA postseason, defeating Oral Roberts and Nebraska to win the Lincoln Regional. UCI, which recorded a 42-18 record, was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation.
He led the Anteaters into uncharted territory in 2009. That season UC Irvine was the consensus No. 1 team in the nation and was awarded a No. 6 national seed in the NCAA postseason, a first for UCI. Making their fourth consecutive postseason appearance, the Anteaters served as a regional host for the first time in the program’s history. Under Gillespie’s leadership, the Anteaters won their first-ever Big West Conference title, winning the championship with a 22-2 mark in league play and posting the Big West’s second-highest win percentage at .916. The Anteaters were a perfect 12-0 at home in conference action, becoming the first team in Big West history to accomplish the feat as well as recording the third straight 40-win season, finishing at 45-15. The 45 victories were the most since UCI became a Division I program in 1977-78. At the conclusion of the regular season, a school-record ten Anteaters were honored on the Big West All-Conference teams and Gillespie was voted the conference Coach of the Year, his fifth such honor.
In 2010, the Anteaters were 39-21 overall, logging a season-high six game win streak and earned the program’s sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Daniel Bibona became the first Anteater to win back-to-back Big West Pitcher of the Year honors and became UCI’s strikeout leader with 332. Christian Bergman nearly threw a perfect game, facing 27 batters in a complete-game win and seven Anteaters garnered all-conference awards. In post-season action, Gillespie’s Anteaters eliminated LSU and finished as runners-up in regional play.
In 2011 the team dropped just two conference weekend series all year and then mounted a post-season charge at the Los Angeles Regional where the Anteaters defeated three conference champions, Fresno State, San Francisco and UCLA, to advance to the Charlottesville Super Regional. UCI earned eight All-Big West honors, the third-most collected by the program since 2009 and the 2011 season also saw UCI’s fourth no-hitter as Matt Summers handed Long Beach State a 2-0 shutout. UCI finished 43-18 for the program’s fourth 40-win season in the last five years and the team also posted a second-place finish in the Big West at 16-8 for its fourth consecutive top three conference finish. Brian Hernandez was named the Big West’s inaugural Defensive Player of the Year and he along with catcher Ronnie Shaeffer, collected American Baseball Coaches Association Gold Glove Awards with UCI being the only program with multiple recipients.
In 2013, UCI won 10 weekend series and posted a 25-9 record at home to improve to 126-46 at Anteater Ballpark during the Gillespie era. Seven players were voted to the all-conference teams, Sparks was named an ABCA Gold Glove winner and he and Morales combined for six All-America nods.
Gillespie’s coaching fame includes a 20-year career at USC, where he guided the Trojans to 15 postseason appearances, four College World Series appearances (1995, 1998, 2000 and 2001) and a national title in 1998 for which Gillespie was named National Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball and the American Baseball Coaches Association.
Gillespie posted a 763-471-2 (.618) record during his tenure at USC, producing 30 major league players, including five who were voted to the All-Star Game in 2003 (Mark Prior, Barry Zito, Aaron Boone, Bret Boone and Geoff Jenkins).
His reign at USC began in 1987 and in just his second season, guided the Trojans to the West Regional, falling just one game shy of the College World Series. USC made four consecutive regional appearances, including winning the conference title in 1991. From 1993, Gillespie led USC to an impressive 10 consecutive postseason appearances that included back-to-back College World Series appearances in 2000 and 2001, marking the first time USC accomplished the feat since 1973 and 1974.
His teams won five Pacific-10 titles, garnered Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors four times (1991, 1995, 1996, 2002) and West Region Coach of the Year accolades twice (1996 and 1998) by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
In 2002, Gillespie directed his talents to the USA Baseball National Team, leading the team to a 27-3-1 record and posting the highest winning percentage (.900) in history until the mark was surpassed by the 2003 team. The national team reeled off a 21-game unbeaten streak at the end of the season and Team USA captured the crown with an 8-5 win against Cuba. For his efforts, Gillespie was nominated by the United States Olympic Committee as the baseball Coach of the Year. It was his second stint with USA Baseball, having served as an assistant coach with the 1997 USA team.
He is only one of two men (Arizona's Jerry Kindall) to both play for and coach an NCAA-championship baseball team. He was the left-fielder for USC’s 1961 national-championship squad and coached the 1998 team to the program’s 12th title.
Prior to coaching at USC, Gillespie coached at the College of the Canyons, where he built the program from scratch. In his 16 seasons at Canyons, Gillespie compiled a 420-167 (.716) record and won 11 Mountain Valley Conference championships, including six consecutive from 1981-86. He captured three state titles and finished as the California runner-up twice. His teams finished with 20 or more wins in 13 years of his tenure, posting 30-plus wins six times. His final squad won 41 games in 1986, the most-ever by a California community college at that time. His term included three California Community College Co-Coach of the Year awards.
Gillespie served as Canyon’s athletic director from 1977-86 and taught English, physical education and health education. He earned his bachelor’s (1962) and master’s (1963) degrees from USC.
Gillespie and his wife, Barbara, have four children, Kelly, Mitch, Matt and Tiffany and have three grandchildren, Cade, Cole and Samantha.