IRVINE — It was a loss about which UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie wanted to be anything but trivial.
But nothing less than a bit of baseball lore that unfolded at Anteater Ballpark on Wednesday may have upstaged the consequences of the Anteaters' 7-3 nonconference loss to visiting San Diego.
San Diego junior third baseman Kris Bryant launched his NCAA-leading 30th home run of the season in the second inning to conclude his regular-season with seven homers in his last six games. His 30 homers tie the NCAA single-season record since BBCOR composite bats, that all agree minimize power, were put into play in 2011. The 30 dingers also surpass the total hit by UCI as a team in the last two seasons combined (27).
Further, Bryant, projected to be selected with one of the first three picks in the Major League Draft in June, upped his season totals to 61 runs batted in, 72 runs scored and 45 extra-base hits among his 67 hits. He has 57 walks and 37 strikeouts entering the West Coast Conference Tournament.
"He is special," said Gillespie, who is in is 26th season of Division I coaching. "I don't know if I've seen another guy who was that impressive, and that's a lot of guys and a lot of good players over the years.
"The numbers are video-game numbers that are just staggering," Gillespie said. "He is just spectacular. It's really believable to me that he is in the big leagues as soon as this summer, depending on who takes him."
Bryant, who hit in the leadoff spot for the 12th time this season – part of Toreros Coach Rich Hill's ploy to allow opposing teams at least one chance to pitch to Bryant with no one on base, while also maximizing his potential at-bats – has 13 RBIs in the last six games. His production has helped USD (32-22) score 75 runs in its last six games, including double-figures in each of the previous five before Wednesday.
The Toreros scored four in the first inning off UCI starter Kyle Hooper, who yielded the Bryant homer over the left-field fence before exiting. Hooper allowed eight hits and five runs, all earned, over 1 2/3 innings.
Hooper fanned Bryant looking to open the game and UCI's Race Parmenter retired him on strikes in the eighth to help limit Bryant to a one-for-five performance.
Junior Mitch Merten led a handful of UCI relievers who had success, but the Anteaters (31-17) could not muster more than six hits off three USD hurlers.
USD starter Louie Lechich allowed one earned run on five hits in a career-best six innings to earn the victory, his second in five decisions.
Merten struck out all four hitters he faced to help UCI produce a combined 11 punchouts. Jimmy Litchfield allowed one hit in two scoreless innings and Evan Brock held the visitors without a hit or a run in two innings, striking out two.
Elliot Surrey and Parmenter blanked USD in their single inning of relief, respectively.
UCI sophomore first baseman Connor Spencer went two for five to pace the hosts, for whom Dominique Taylor and Taylor Sparks had a single and an RBI apiece. Spencer is now hitting .386.
Mikey Duarte added the third RBI on a groundout for UCI.
" The loss was hugely disappointing," said Gillespie, whose team has seven regular-season games left to make a run at an NCAA Regional berth, including a crucial three-game Big West Conference series that begins on Friday at first-place Cal State Fullerton. "We're running out of games that don't matter.
"There is really no secret about what is at stake [at Fullerton]. "I'm positive we'll compete and I'm sure [Friday starting pitcher Andrew Thurman] will compete like heck. It ought to be a dog fight."
San Diego 7, UC Irvine 3
SCORE BY INNINGS
USD 410 000 020 – 7 12 3
UCI 100 000 101 – 3 6 0
Lechich, Covey (7), Wagner (9) and Green; Hooper, Merten (2), Litchfield (3), Brock (6), Moore (8), Parmenter (8), Surrey (9) and McClanahan. W – Lechich, 2-3. L – Hooper, 1-3. 2B – Conyers (USD), Stephens (UCI). 3B –times HR – Bryant (USD).
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun