Going undefeated in conference play is no easy feat, but regular season perfection isn’t nearly as satisfying without repeat success in the playoffs.
With a 15-0 record in the Southern Pacific West Conference, the winningest UCSB club baseball team in program history heads into Henderson, Nev. today looking to take Regionals for the first time in four years.
“Our chances at winning [Regionals] are much better than in previous years,” junior catcher Matt Haddad said. “Our pitching is deeper, and our offense is more explosive.”
First up for two-seeded Santa Barbara will be one-seeded Arizona, a team that edged the Gauchos in last year’s Regional Tournament by winning a 2-1 pitcher’s duel. The double-elimination tournament also includes UC Davis and Long Beach State, but the team is most concerned with their opening game this afternoon in Burkholder Park.
“Arizona’s a really good team,” Head Coach Chris Bruner said. “50,000 people go to their school, and their program is very well funded.”
Taking the hill against the Wildcats will be junior Zachary Buchta, an overpowering right-hander that ranks in the top 10 nationally with a .92 ERA. Buchta has been the ace of the staff all season, leading UCSB with a 6-0 record in seven starts. The Danville, Calif. native has also fanned 46 batters in only 39 innings pitched.
“Buchta throws some gas,” Haddad said. “No one has been able to catch up to his fastball.”
Joining Buchta in Santa Barbara’s three-man rotation is senior right-hander Freddy Vazquez (5-0, 2.91 ERA), another flamethrower who has more strikeouts than innings pitched. Sophomore right-hander CJ Connolly (1-0, 2.25 ERA) rounds out the trio.
“Those three starters have carried us all season,” Bruner said. “Those are our go-to guys.”
Though pitching is undoubtedly the club baseball team’s strong suite, the hitting has also started to heat up at the right time. Freshman utility Andrew Bertolero has 20 hits in 40 at bats from the leadoff spot, while freshman shortstop Ryan Wolf has raised his average up to .434 after going six-for-eight with two home runs in UCSB’s last series of the regular season.
Although the Gauchos have never failed to make the postseason since they joined the NCBA back in 2008, they have also never broken through to the Nationals. But Santa Barbara has also never had a talent pool quite like this.
“Every year we’ve gotten more guys to come out, and every year we’ve gotten better,” Bruner said. “I’m 100 percent confident that we’ll make it to the [Regional] final, and from there, we’ll just have to do our best.”