The so-called quality start has become downright quantifiable this season for the UC Irvine baseball team, which rode a completely serviceable pitching performance and some opportunistic hitting to its seventh straight victory Tuesday.
The 6-4 win over visiting USC (8-3), which has suddenly lost three of its last four, was the 12th time in as many games this season that UCI (9-3) has allowed three or fewer earned runs in the first six innings (the statistical definition of an individual quality start).
The four runs and 10 hits cobbled together by the Trojans against four UCI pitchers was the second-most accrued by an Anteaters' opponent this season (Fresno State scored five after the sixth in its 8-7 win in 13 innings on Feb. 15).
Since then, UCI had allowed just 17 runs in 56 innings, coming into Tuesday, and no more than three runs in any game. Such mound mastery has allowed the 'Eaters to fashion a minuscule 1.36 team earned-run average coming into Tuesday.
Junior starter Evan Manarino, who entered 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA, pitched three-plus, allowing five hits and three earned runs. But redshirt sophomore Kyle Davis, senior Jimmy Litchfield and junior Sam Moore combined for six innings of one-run relief to extend the winning streak.
Davis allowed three hits in 2 1/3 scoreless innings and Litchfield fanned three in his 1 2/3. Litchfield surrendered a run on a one-out double and a two-out single in the seventh, but he struck out two batters to leave runners at the corners when he entered the game in the sixth.
Moore, who now has a conference-best six saves, retired all six he faced to close out the win for Davis, 2-0.
"Pitching has been the story," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who was candid before the season began that he was concerned with what his mound corps might give him.
"I'm aware that we've been pitching well, but I did not have a handle on the [quality start stat]," said Gillespie, who has dispensed praise for his staff's excellence to second-year pitching coach and former Anteater All-American Danny Bibona.
But with USC leading, 3-0, in the middle of the fourth, it was UCI's offense that needed to assert itself.
USC pitchers helped by issuing six walks, including three straight to start a five-run uprising in the UCI fourth. Junior Kris Paulino doubled in two runs to put UCI on the scoreboard and junior Chris Rabago followed with an RBI single to erase USC's last lead.
Taylor Sparks drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly and Connor Spencer singled to make it 5-3 Anteaters through four innings.
Paulino, a part-time leadoff man whose 11 RBIs lead the squad, singled in Jerry McClanahan, who ran around the catcher as he fielded the throw from right field slightly up the line and side-stepped back toward the diamond to slap home plate.
Paulino was three for four and McClanahan, who had been struggling, was two for three and scored twice.
Seven Anteaters contributed to the 10-hit attack and UCI played errorless defense for the third straight game.
"A lot of different guys did something for us tonight," said Gillespie, who is among those pleasantly surprised that such a comment continues to include emerging stories on the bump.
UCI opens a three-game nonconference home series against Gonzaga on Saturday at 1 p.m.
UC Irvine 6, USC 4
SCORE BY INNINGS
USC 200 100 100 – 4 10 0
UCI 000 510 00x – 6 10 0
Wheatley, Paschke (4), Adler (4), Guillen (6), Nootbaar (8) and Martinez; Manarino, Davis (4), Litchfield (6), Moore (8) and McClanahan. W – Davis 2-0. L – Paschke, 1-2. Sv – Moore (6). 2B – McClanahan (UCI), Paulino (UCI), Stubbs (USC). HR – Martinez (USC).