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UC Irvine advances to World Series

June 11, 2007|Ken Fowler | Times Staff Writer

From 1993 through 2001, UC Irvine baseball was dead. It's alive today.

With the Anteaters' 3-2 victory over Wichita State (53-22) in a super regional Sunday in Kansas, Irvine (45-15-1) advanced to the College World Series only six seasons after reviving a program that was disbanded for nearly a decade. Irvine won the best-of-three series in two games.

Clinging to a 2-0 lead in the top of the ninth inning Sunday, Irvine starting pitcher Wes Etheridge surrendered a leadoff single. The next batter, Damon Sublett, grounded to short, but the throw to first forced first baseman Taylor Holiday to stretch. First base umpire Jack Cox initially ruled the play an out, but Wichita State Coach Gene Stephenson argued the call and the umpires awarded Sublett the base.

After Conor Gillaspie advanced the runners with a groundout, Etheridge was pulled for Tim Calahan, who got Matt Brown to line out to third. Irvine Coach Dave Serrano then turned to Dylan Axelrod, who surrendered a walk and a two-run single to Blake Hurlbutt before recording the final out of the inning.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
College baseball: An article in Monday's Sports section on UC Irvine's reaching the College World Series said that the school failed to reach the Division I tournament during the program's first run, from 1970 to 1992. In fact, Irvine was a member of Division II until the 1977-78 school year. It won Division II titles in 1973 and 1974.

"We needed to stick together," Serrano said. "Whether he was safe or out, we had to overcome that decision by the umpires."

The Anteaters responded immediately. Matt Morris, who delivered a run-scoring sacrifice bunt in the first and scored on a Jeff Cusick single in the fourth, singled and advanced to second on a pitch in the dirt. Then, with a full count, Bryan Petersen doubled to right to knock in Morris.

"I think I can finally wake up from this dream," Serrano said. "We knew there was something special about this team. But to say that in my third year here and my staff's third year here, that we would get this team ... to Omaha and play in Rosenblatt Stadium, it's just an unbelievable feat by a bunch of young men that just want to win and do things right every day."

Sunday's win was a culmination of six years of effort to rebuild the program, which failed to reach the Division I tournament during its first run, from 1970 to 1992.

Irvine hired John Savage, now the coach at UCLA, to steer the restart. In 2004, after Irvine reached the Division I tournament for the first time, UCLA hired Savage and Irvine Athletic Director Bob Chichester turned to Serrano, who was the pitching coach on Cal State Fullerton's 2004 national championship team.

"I think it's fair to say that Dave and I shared a vision and shared some values," Chichester said after Sunday's win.

"And it's as important to us how we do things as getting things done."

Serrano's squad earned the program's second berth to the tournament in 2006 but walked away winless from the Pepperdine regional.

"I didn't take this job just to be head coach," Serrano said. "I took this job to get this program to Omaha. I've been taught nothing but [that] when I was at Fullerton.

"And I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't think that this university had a commitment and that we could get the players in here to do what we just did over the last two weekends. [I am] surprised that it happened a little fast, but that's OK. I'll take that."

How Irvine has won has been as impressive as the achievement itself. The Anteaters have swept two perennial powers -- Texas in the Round Rock regional and now Wichita State -- in front of hostile crowds.

But even some of the core players on the Irvine squad said they did not expect what they have accomplished this year.

"I'm not going to lie," Etheridge said. "There's no way I thought we'd go to Omaha, even at the beginning of this year."

Chichester said the berth to the College World Series is "an indicator of the potential that our athletic programs have when we have people working together."

Irvine's first game in Omaha will be Saturday against Arizona State.

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