On The Upswing: Week TwoAnalysis
Every week, Aaron Fitt and Kendall Rogers examine 10 teams that raised their profiles over the previous weekend. Here’s Week Two’s look at teams on the upswing.
Aaron Fitt’s Five
Mike Gillespie’s final season as Irvine’s head coach is off to a strong start. The Anteaters followed up a season-opening series win against Nevada with a midweek victory over Loyola Marymount and then another weekend series win against Gonzaga, improving them to 6-2 overall. Strong pitching has been UCI’s calling card early on; they allowed just three runs total in their two victories over the Wolf Pack, then gave up just one run in back-to-back wins against Gonzaga on Friday and Saturday.
Andre Pallante (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K) was simply overpowering in the opener, just has he was a week earlier against Nevada. Through two starts, Pallante has yet to allow a run, and he owns a sparkling 19-2 strikeout-walk mark in 13.1 innings. That walk rate is particularly encouraging after he issued 32 walks in 48 innings last year; heading into the season, the Eaters dubbed him a big arm who was working to develop better secondary pitches. It sure seems like he’s ready to put it all together this spring. Sinkerballer Louis Raymond followed with a complete-game gem on Saturday, scattering six hits and allowing just one earned run. Irvine will win a lot of series behind that duo.
The Pirates vaulted into the Top 25 rankings at No. 18 after winning a traveling rivalry series against North Carolina, which began the week ranked sixth (and now finds itself down at No. 20). ECU is now 6-1 and has pitched at an exceptionally high level, allowing three or fewer runs in each of its six victories. As a staff, ECU sports a 1.86 ERA, but its offense also owns a strong .308 batting average. Trey Benton (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) and Tyler Smith (3 IP, 0 H, 0 R) combined on a two-hitter in Friday’s 2-1 win in Greenville, when the Pirates out-hit the Tar Heels 12-2. UNC bounced back with a 5-4 win Saturday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, but the Pirates got three innings of scoreless relief in that game from blue-chip freshman righty Gavin Williams, who ran his fastball up to 100 mph according to multiple reports. He’s obviously going to be a major difference maker right away for ECU.
Chris Holba twirled seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball in Sunday’s 12-0 East Carolina blowout victory Sunday in Chapel Hill, as the Pirates out-hit the Heels 12-3. Holba has opened the season with 11.2 scoreless innings, 16 strikeouts and just two walks. East Carolina’s offense is balanced, with eight players hitting .280 or better so far, and its defense has been superb, with a .993 fielding percentage.