UC Irvine's Keston Hiura (Aaron Fitt)


GSA Spotlight: UCI’s Keston Hiura

Golden Spikes Spotlight

SAN DIEGO — Seventy-six-year-old Mike Gillespie has been a college baseball coach since 1971, and he’s seen his fair share of outstanding hitters in his day. He’s coached six players who went on to become major league All-Stars, including Aaron Boone, Bret Boone, Geoff Jenkins and Morgan Ensberg during his tenure at Southern California.

So when Gillespie says that UC Irvine junior outfielder Keston Hiura stacks up with the best of the players he has coached, it carries some serious weight.

“He’s special. He just is really special,” said Gillespie, who is in his ninth season at UC Irvine after spending 20 years as the head coach at USC. “As you know, I’ve done this a long, long, long, long time, and he’s on the shortest list of really special.”

Hiura has shown just how special his bat is ever since he set foot at UCI — which plays in a cavernous pitcher-friendly park in the pitcher-friendly Big West. He hit .330 with seven homers as a freshman All-American in 2015. He hit .358 with seven more long balls as a sophomore in 2016. He hit .289 with a team-best three home runs last summer with Team USA’s Collegiate National Team. And he’s off to a torrid start in 2017, hitting .444/.515/1.074 with five doubles 15 RBIs in seven games.

After just two weeks, he’s well on his way to exceeding last year’s home run total — he has four round trippers in 27 at-bats, including a massive bomb off the center field backdrop at San Diego State on Thursday night against Notre Dame. He hit another homer Saturday against Tennessee at San Diego’s Fowler Park, taking an 83 mph Will Neely slider to the opposite field for a towering three-run shot in the first inning. Later in the game he showed off his ability to turn on the ball with authority, hitting a laser single to left field.

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