They have yet to play a game this year, but UC Irvine's baseball players are already talking about momentum. The question, of course, is whether that mysterious and elusive phenomenon can be maintained over an off-season.
The Anteaters won their final six games last year, and they go into today's opener at Arizona with the second-longest winning streak in the country. (Navy has won seven straight.) Irvine returns 19 players from last season, 11 of whom are seniors, so at least the Anteaters will be trying to keep the streak alive with pretty much the same people.
"This is a very talented and experienced club," Coach Mike Gerakos said. "We ended the '87 season on a very positive note, but we want to do better in the nonconference games this year so we can make it impossible for the NCAA to say no to a playoff berth."
Irvine was 13-8 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. last season, finishing second. But the Anteaters were 27-26-1 overall and didn't get a spot in postseason play.
Three seniors--pitcher Craig Brink, catcher Doug Kline and first baseman John Seeburger--are being counted on to help Irvine keep winning.
Brink, a 6-foot 2-inch right-hander, was 9-4 overall and 6-1 in conference play last year. Kline, beginning his third season as starting catcher, hit .373 overall and .443 in PCAA games last season. And Seeburger, who hit .337 overall, set a school record for doubles with 23.
The Anteaters will open without their starting shortstop, however. Junior Chris Gallego had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in October and won't be ready to play in the field for two to three weeks. He may do some pinch-hitting or be a designated hitter during the three-game series in Arizona.
Freshman Al Rodriguez, a Times All-County selection from Westminster High School, will replace Gallego at shortstop.
"Al should be able to do a fine job filling in for Chris," Gerakos said. "He's the kind of player who can be an impact player as a freshman. But Chris is one of the players that will have to be there for us. We need him."
Gerakos' long-term goal is to establish Irvine as one of the premier baseball schools in the nation. This season, he hopes to take one giant step in the right direction and make a debut in postseason play.
"Last year, we had the smell of it," he said. "This year, we want to taste it."
Too much Mr. Nice Guy?
Bill Mulligan is beginning to think that the key to being a successful college basketball coach is the ability to drum up a really foul mood just before practice every day.
"Andy (Andreas, a former assistant of both Mulligan and Indiana Coach Bobby Knight) says Knight is an absolute (jerk) in practice every day . . . every day," Mulligan said. "Sometimes I think that's the answer. But we've got a bunch of really nice kids and it's hard to pretend you hate them all the time."
After Irvine beat Cal State Fullerton Jan. 7 in Titan Gym, Mulligan said he couldn't help but show how happy he was the next day in practice. Two days after the big win, however, the Anteaters' play was uninspired--to put it mildly--and they lost by 35 points to Nevada Las Vegas.
The next week, Irvine put together its best all-around efforts in victories over Utah State and San Jose State--both upper-echelon PCAA teams--and Mulligan was obviously pleased. Then the Anteaters went on the road and had to rally to beat University of the Pacific (0-7 in conference play) and blew an eight-point lead in the final eight minutes to lose to Fresno State (2-5).
Mulligan said the loss at Fresno can be directly attributed to lack of effort.
"In the first half, we were the better defensive team by far," he said. "We absolutely went after them and took them out of everything they wanted to do. For some reason, we lost our defensive intensity completely in the second half."
Needless to say, Mulligan hasn't seemed anything like Misterogers during practice this week. Heck, he might even take up chair-throwing.
It's generally accepted that Nevada Las Vegas' ability to win on the road is what sets the Runnin' Rebels apart from the rest of the PCAA. But they win on the road--and at home, too--because they have a wealth of talent and thus match up well against almost everyone.
In Irvine's case, the matchups seem more important than the home-court advantage. In fact, the Anteaters have followed last season's home/away, won/lost pattern perfectly so far.
On the road: They have beaten Fullerton and Pacific and lost to Fresno State and Las Vegas.
In the Bren Center: They have victories over Utah State and San Jose State and have lost to UC Santa Barbara.
If the pattern continues, Irvine will go 3-1 in its four-game home stand, which begins tonight with Cal State Long Beach and includes New Mexico State, UNLV and Fullerton.
The Anteaters beat the 49ers, Aggies and Titans at home last season. They lost to (surprise, surprise) the Runnin' Rebels.