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August 9, 2007

Rising programs: No. 2 UC Irvine

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    With fall workouts in the not too distant future, we continue our inside look at many programs around the country.

    In our latest series, we breakdown the nation's Top 10 Rising Programs.

    Though the top spot won't be unveiled until tomorrow, we continue the countdown with a team that captured the hearts and minds of many in Omaha UC Irvine.

    In coach Dave Serrano's third season as the head man, the Anteaters finished second in the Big West. However, they will be remembered more for their postseason run.

    With a trip to the College World Series now attached to their resume, the Anteaters will head into 2008 and beyond with a stronger sense of confidence. It's just one of many reasons why they're one of the nation's rising programs.

    Rising Programs: No. 2 UC Irvine
    Why are they rising?
    When confident coach Dave Serrano left his post as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton to become the head coach at UC Irvine, he did so with impressive credentials. The Anteaters were already on the right track, but Serrano has turned the program into one that many now consider to be the new Fullerton. Sure, the Anteaters have much to accomplish before actually earning that label, but it's a step in the right direction. Though the Eaters reached the Regional round in 2006, they dazzled the college baseball community with a gutsy run in 2007. With a charismatic coaching staff in place and the return of ace right-hander Scotty Gorgen, the Eaters should be contenders once again in 2008. Most importantly, UC Irvine is now a team that few want to play - just ask Texas and Wichita State. They have more work to do, but the future is incredibly bright.

    2007 Year in Review
    After making a splash in 2006, the Anteaters entered the 2007 season with even more to prove. With high expectations present, the Eaters began the year with a road series loss to in-state foe California. The Eaters then took care of Houston and Washington in non-conference play before raising the eyebrows of many with a pair of series wins over Big West competitors Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. When the dust to the regular season settled, the Anteaters sat in second place behind UC Riverside. However, the Eaters took solace in taking two of three from the Highlanders. After finishing conference play on a high note, the Eaters received a tough draw by having to travel to Texas for Regional play. Even with the tough competition, UCI prevailed in impressive fashion. The Eaters continued their impressive play the following week by beating Wichita State in the Super Regional round to advance to the CWS. While in Omaha, the Anteaters caught everyone's attention.

    What the future holds
    In just three seasons at UC Irvine, coach Dave Serrano has transformed the program into a national contender. Sure, the Anteaters have several integral pieces to replace in 2008, but the future of the program is still bright. The Eaters must find a way to replace pitchers Blair Erickson, Wes Etheridge and Dylan Axelrod. They must also replace offensive contributors Matt Morris, Taylor Holiday, Bryan Petersen and Cody Cipriano, among others. Though filling in those holes is easier said than done, the Eaters should once again have the ability to go the distance in '08. Veteran right-hander Scotty Gorgen is one of the nation's premier pitchers, while Eric Pettis hopes to build on his seven starts in 2007. While Gorgen and Pettis lead the charge on the mound, the Eaters will be led at the plate by speedy outfielder Ollie Linton, Ben Orloff and Sean Madigan. With momentum on their side, the Eaters will likely refuse to look back.

    Kendall's analysis
    When Dave Serrano arrived at UC Irvine, he had hoped to transform the Titan mentality he embraced at Cal State Fullerton into an Anteater mentality with his new team. That plan worked like a charm. Not only did Serrano get his players to buy into the system, he led them to the College World Series in his third season. The Eaters have much work to do to obtain the same status as conference counterpart Cal State Fullerton. But one thing's for sure, they're on the right track. As the Eaters move forward, they do so with an outstanding pitcher in righty Scotty Gorgen. UC Irvine now has the confidence to consistently compete at an elite level. Now they must build on it.

    Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at kendall@rivals.com.