After its bullpen pitched eight shutout innings in a 5-4 comeback win against USC on Tuesday, the Gaucho baseball team looks to take three more in a conference series against UC Riverside, which begins today at 3 p.m at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
“I feel good about this weekend,” centerfielder Gunnar Terhune said. “It’s nice to have [Riverside] play at our park, too. We feel comfortable at our park.”
[media-credit id=20114 align="alignleft" width="250"][/media-credit]Tuesday’s win against the Trojans was critical for the Gaucho bullpen, which allowed USC to rally from an 8-0 deficit at Dedeaux Field to come back and win 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth on April 20. Four Gaucho relievers contributed to the eight innings of shutout pitching on Tuesday, only allowing a combined three hits in the effort.
“The guys got back in their groove,” Terhune added. “They had gone through some struggles. [The win] says a lot about our bullpen.”
With the win, the Gauchos jumped above .500 with an 18-17 overall record. The Gauchos have been streaky this season, putting together a five-game winning streak in March before losing four in a row, winning three straight, then losing four in a row again. At their lowest point, the Gauchos lost five games in a row before winning the last game of the series against Long Beach State on April 25. The team has won its last two, but is 4-5 against conference opponents and occupies sixth place in Big West rankings.
“It’s a little bit unique,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said about the team’s inconsistency. “Anybody can beat you and you can beat anybody at any given time. The margin for error isn’t that great. We’re hoping for a win 12 lose 1 one situation, rather than a win four lose three.”
Meanwhile, the Highlanders, who have won their last five games, are currently in fourth in the Big West with a 5-4 record after taking two of three against Long Beach State.
“They’re a pretty solid team, all the way around,” said left-handed junior Mario Hollands. “They’ve been good the past couple of years, they’re solid pitching-wise and offensively. They’re a complete team.”
In five meetings last season, the Gauchos took two games against the Highlanders. Still, UCSB has won 11 of its 19 games at home, and its previous success in Santa Barbara could be a factor for a pitching staff that has just begun to find its stride.
“It’s because we spend so much time here,” Hollands said. “We know all the little hops and the intricacies of the field so well right now. It’s like a second home to us.”
Hollands will start again on Friday night after a rare bad outing at Long Beach last weekend, in which he lasted only 3.1 innings and allowed ten runs on 15 hits. Prior to last week’s game, Hollands owned one of the lowest ERAs in the Big West.
“I know that Mario is going to come back with a vengeance,” Terhune said. “He’s coming out strong this weekend, I guarantee it.”
Hollands added, “It can’t get worse than [my last game]. It’s just about having the mentality of knowing that I’ve beat [Riverside] before. [They’re almost] a carbon copy of last year’s team, offensively and defensively.”
In the leadoff spot, Terhune leads all Gauchos with 28 runs scored. Senior shortstop Matt Valaika, in the third spot, leads the team with 27 RBI, while senior Marty Mullins has hit a team-leading five homeruns.
The series continues on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. The projected lineups have not been released for this week, but expect left-handed junior Nick Capito to start on Saturday and right-handed junior Jesse Meaux to start on Sunday.
“We always think we can take three,” Hollands said. “That would really help in the Big West.”