IRVINE — The middle of the UC Irvine batting order drove in five runs, but it was the success of the middle of the weekend pitching rotation that was perhaps most noteworthy in UC Irvine's 8-2 Big West Conference home win over UC Davis on Saturday.
Junior left-hander Matt Whitehouse, who has been overshadowed by Friday-night starter Andrew Thurman and Sunday starter Andrew Morales, allowed seven hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings to help UCI (27-12, 9-5 in conference) take sole possession of third place and clinch the three-game series against the Aggies.
It was Whitehouse's first win since April 6 and gave the Anteaters, ranked No. 21 by USA Today/ESPN, only their second win in the middle game of their last seven weekend series.
Offensively, sophomore third baseman and cleanup hitter Taylor Sparks was two for three with three runs batted in, while sophomore first baseman Connor Spencer was two for five with two RBIs in the No. 3 spot.
Sparks is now hitting .510 in his last 11 games, during which he has driven in 22 runs to take the team lead with 36. He also added a stolen base, his fifth of 2013.
Spencer is now hitting a team-best .388 and, after breaking an eight-game RBI drought, has 22 to rank fourth on the team.
It was a bounce-back performance for Whitehouse, who surrendered a season-worst five earned runs on four hits in 3 1/2 innings in a 14-13 conference loss at Pacific on April 20. It was his shortest of 10 starts this season.
"Last week was a little rough," said Whitehouse, who improved to 4-4 after the loss in Stockton left him under .500 for the first time all season. "I didn't have command of all my stuff [at Pacific]. So I knew this week I wanted to come out here and command everything and show my old self, show what I had to offer the team."
Whitehouse struck out eight, one fewer than his season high, and walked just one. He walked three against Pacific.
"[Whitehouse] was good today," UCI Coach Mike Gillespie said. "His fastball had a little more jump to it today [in the 85-86 mph range, after registering closer to 83 in his previous start] and he got both breaking balls over."
Whitehouse did not allow a runner to reach second base through the first five innings and held the Aggies (15-25, 3-11) scoreless on four hits through seven.
Meanwhile, UCI scored one in the first and five in the fourth, when it batted around with the benefit of three singles, two walks and two hit batters. The hosts scored two more in the seventh to forge an 8-0 cushion, a rare big lead for any UCI pitcher.
Whitehouse said his sub-par performance the previous week prompted him to increase his mental focus.
"[Getting knocked out early] helped me start preparing mentally earlier than usual," Whitehouse said. "I definitely took the time from the end of my last start to get ready for this start."
Whitehouse said peer pressure also helped him get back on track.
"Morales [9-0 with a 1.34 ERA entering Sunday's start] has a great approach and so does Thurman [4-3, 2.64] and I just want to compete with what I had and go after guys," said Whitehouse, who threw 69 of his 98 pitches for strikes. "The confidence is getting back up there and it's feeling good."
UCI senior outfielder Jeff Stephens, who missed the previous 21 games with a broken bone in his wrist, went two for three and scored a run.
UCI, which has won nine of its last 11 conference games, will try to close out a sweep on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 8, UC Davis 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCD 000 000 020 – 2 10 1
UCI 100 502 00X – 8 12 0
Koopmans, Parucha (4), Burke (7) and Silva; Whitehouse, Brock (8) and McClanahan. W – Whitehouse, 4-4. L – Koopmans, 1-6. 2B – Young (UCD), Gottschling (UCI), Palmer (UCI).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun