April 4, 2008


Armed and Still Dangerous

By Abbey Mastracco



IRVINE, Calif. — UC Irvine’s Cinderella year didn’t end when they fell to eventual champion Oregon State at the 2007 College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The Anteaters barely had time to enjoy their immense accomplishment when their head coach, Dave Serrano, shocked the Anteaters by accepting the head coaching position with cross-county rival Cal State Fullerton.


However, the move is merely water under the bridge now, according to UC Irvine pitcher Scott Gorgen (pictured left). It’s Serrano’s loss, as he left behind one of the West Coast’s strongest programs and top pitching staffs, anchored by Gorgen himself. Gorgen, along with a crop of young up-and-comers, have managed to shut down nearly every opponent that has dared to cross the No. 5-ranked Anteaters’ (19-3) path.


“I think it’s the best in the nation,” sophomore left-hander Danny Bibona proudly proclaims.


The evidence is good enough to match Bibona’s statement: The Anteater staff has amassed a 2.12 ERA over 22 games, currently No. 1 in the NCAA, right in front of North Carolina (2.34) and Big West Conference rival Long Beach State (2.47).


“I think we have four or five quality starters that can start at any time and match up with anybody in the nation,” said sophomore closer Eric Pettis. “And then we have some great depth in the bullpen, some great match-ups, and we can bring in four or five different guys that can get the job done just as well.”


Gorgen, the All-American hurler that tossed four straight complete games in the postseason last year to lead the Anteaters to Omaha, has continued his excellence on the mound in his junior season. The right-hander from Concord, Calif., in the Bay Area leads the team almost across the board, with a 5-1 record and a 1.39 ERA over 45.1 innings.


Just barely 5-foot-10 and 190 lbs. soaking wet, Gorgen doesn’t exactly have the most intimidating stature on the mound. But that’s just fine with him, as he would rather let his performances on the hill and his numbers speak for himself. And speak they do: Gorgen’s 55 strikeouts ranks No. 4 in the NCAA, and his 3.97 hits per nine innings is the fifth fewest.


“Scottie is as tough as they come,” said UC Irvine pitching coach Ted Silva. “He wants the ball as long as he can have it, whenever he can have it, and you’ve got to rip it out of his hands.”


Known for going long outings, Gorgen has hurled one complete game this season, totaling seven in his career. In half of Gorgen’s outings he has gone eight or more innings, never going less than six. Gorgen’s best performance came in his second start, in which he held San Francisco to just one hit and one walk in his first complete game of 2008. Gorgen blanked a career-high 12 Dons and faced just two over the minimum in the Anteaters’ 4-0 win.


“In a way that kind of shows what I’m going to try to do every week,” Gorgen said. “I get in the zone, I think the adrenaline is pumping and the excitement is there. If I can keep my pitch count low with guys grounding out or flying out with the defense behind me it makes it pretty easy on my part.”


“We’ve been monitoring his pitch count, but at the same time he throws a lot of strikes which allows him to get deep into the game,” Silva said. “And he’s conditioned right now to go deep into the game.”


Since Silva has come aboard, leaving Fresno State and CS Fullerton, he has implemented and emphasized different elements into each pitcher’s game. For Gorgen, it was the breaking ball, which was “a big pitch for him” Silva said.


“I’ve been a fast-change guy, and with Silva coming in he emphasized the curve ball,” Gorgen said. “It’s been a really solid third pitch for me.”


With some of the younger pitchers, it wasn’t as much about adding new pitches as it was perfecting their mechanics on the ones they already throw, while strongly emphasizing fastball command.


“I think the most important aspect when it comes to throwing a certain pitch is their fastball command,” Silva said. “I’m emphasizing fastball command, with whatever second or third pitch they have.”


Fastball command was especially important in the development of Pettis and Bibona. The two sophomores were both spot-starters in 2007, and because of injuries, were forced to step up into larger roles sooner than expected this season. Pettis, who was able to get big-game experience by cutting his teeth pitching in Omaha, became the Anteaters’ closer, and Bibona earned the role of Saturday starter. 


The two have thrived in their new roles, with Pettis wracking up the saves and Bibona holding his ERA solidly below 3.00. Immense confidence in the bullpen allows for an extremely trusting staff, that above all, have faith who ever relieves them.


“I just think we mesh together really well,” Pettis said. “We don’t have any problem handing off to the next guy in an Anteater uniform. We have just as much confidence in Scottie as we do the next person that goes.”


Don’t expect anything less than near-perfection from this staff as Big West play opens; the high level of competition in the baseball-heavy conference only drives their competitive edge, the players say.


“It doesn’t matter what team you roll out, you’re going to get the same thing out of our staff,” Gorgen said.


Serrano need not worry about his old team, which he faces tonight at Anteater Ballpark in Irvine. The team feels that with Gorgen reigning supreme over virtually all opponents and Irvine’s young guns dominant in their roles it paves the way for an equally-potent offense. They feel the pieces are in place to possibly duplicate their success last season they had with Serrano.


The Anteaters have a message for their former coach: They’re just fine without him.