LOS ANGELES — It was supposed to be an honor when USC, where he played and was the head baseball coach for 20 seasons, named the scoreboard at Dedeaux Field after current UC Irvine head man Mike Gillespie.
Instead, it has been more of a curse for the Trojans, who have managed just one run in 18 innings in two losses to the Anteaters in front of the Mike Gillespie Scoreboard.
That run came Tuesday, but wasn't nearly enough in UCI's 3-1 nonconference win. The 'Eaters (17-8) posted a 4-0 triumph in 2011 at USC. The two teams did not play at Gillespie's former stomping grounds last season.
But it was performance more than superstition that had Gillespie grinning after his team snapped a three-game losing streak. Specifically, Gillespie admired the performance of redshirt junior pitcher Mitch Merten, who doubled his career win total by limiting the hosts to one hit in 3 1/3 shutout innings.
It was the fourth outing of the season for Merten, who was sidelined until last week with a strained right rotator cuff.
"We got some good pitching," Gillespie said after four UCI hurlers allowed just five hits and one walk while striking out seven. "But I'm particularly happy with Merten. He is critically important. He could pitch in two of three weekend games if we don't burn him up. He has really picked up the slack for guys who haven't done it [out of the bullpen] when they've had a chance."
Merten, who redshirted the 2010 season out of Servite High, then appeared in one game in 2011. He made 22 appearances last season, but a 1-2 record and 4.13 earned-run average in 32 2/3 innings didn't exactly earn him much distinction.
"I had a couple conversations with him [in which] I said that if baseball was real important to him, he might be better off someplace else," Gillespie said. "But I'm really glad he stayed around."
Merten said he stuck around to prove he could occupy a critical role on the staff. When asked if he had turned that corner now with just one earned run and five hits allowed in eight innings this season (with two walks and seven strikeouts), Merten delivered a smile with his answer.
"I hope so," Merten said. "I feel like I am."
Evan Brock started and allowed one run and three hits in four innings. Sam Moore got two outs in the fifth, before Merten set the stage for senior closer Race Parmenter, who worked a perfect ninth for his fourth save.
Offensively, UCI supplemented its five hits with six walks and four hit batters offered up by four Trojans pitchers.
"It was our turn to get some help," said Gillespie, who continues to lament his team's inability to break open games.
Tuesday marked the 18th time that a UCI game has been decided by three or fewer runs, the 16th time it has been either two or one.
"It has been that that kind of a dogfight all the time," said Gillespie, whose former team fell to 11-17.
Kris Paulino drove in the first UCI run with a sacrifice fly in the second and a two-out single by Jerry McClanahan plated Ronnie Shaeffer in the third to double the visitors' lead.
Dominique Taylor doubled home Chris Rabago, who had walked to lead off the seventh, and the UCI pitchers did the rest.
UCI, in a three-way tie for last place in the Big West Conference at 0-3, plays host to Hawaii in a three-game Big West series that begins Friday at 6:30 p.m.
UC Irvine 3, USC 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCI 011 000 100 – 3 5 0
USC 000 010 000 – 1 5 0
Brock, Moore (5), Merten (5), Parmenter (9) and McClanahan; Nootbaar, Kristie (4), Wheatley (7), Davis (9) and Stubbs. W – Merten, 1-1. L – Nootbaar, 1-3. Sv – Parmenter (4). 2B – Gottschling (UCI), Stubbs (USC), Taylor (UCI).