After going 12-11 in nonconference play this season, UCSB opens Big West play in a three-game series against Cal Poly beginning today at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
[media-credit id=20281 align="alignleft" width="250"][/media-credit] “Everything’s heightened,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It’s a pretty evenly matched series. Hopefully being at home will be the advantage for us.”
Cal Poly began its Big West schedule last week with a 2-1 outing against UC Riverside at home, but lost to San Francisco 4-0 in the Bay in nonconference play on Tuesday. After losing their first six games of the season, the Mustangs went 10-8 and currently own a 10-14 overall record. UCSB is 10-13 against Cal Poly, but the Mustangs have not beaten UCSB in a series since 2009.
“I don’t think it’s an advantage [to have already played Big West games],” senior right-hand pitcher Jesse Meaux said. “The important thing is we’ve been playing tough teams and that’s what matters. [It’s about] the level of competition we get before conference.”
Meaux, 2-2 on the season, will start in the series opener this Friday. Meaux has a 4.06 ERA and has struck out 18 batters during nonconference play. He will try to add to that tally when he pitches against a familiar face on the Cal Poly squad: Mustang junior outfielder Bobby Crocker.
Crocker and Meaux were teammates this past summer on a Cape Cod summer league squad. Crocker currently holds the second-best batting average for Cal Poly with a hitting percentage of .337.
“[Crocker] is a good hitter, but there’s going to be a lot of good hitters in the Big West,” Meaux said. “We just have to execute our pitches. It’s really important to keep the ball down, especially against good hitters.”
Meaux will find support on the mound from a bullpen of relievers that so far have recorded an ERA of 2.62, allowing 48 hits and 13 walks.
“We utilize our bullpen quite a bit,” Brontsema said. “Part of good relief pitching is having good defense … it’ll give us a better chance of winning.”
The Gaucho pitching rotation will face multiple Cal Poly batters with averages of at least .300. Mustang junior Mike Miller’s .386 average is currently the best in the Big West, although he has not accumulated enough at-bats in his 17 games to officially be considered for the category.
For UCSB, senior second baseman Sean Williams anchors the Gauchos offense. Williams’ .382 batting average is second behind Miller’s in the Big West, while his .551 slugging percentage tops the conference. Senior right fielder Mark Haddow bats .325, holds the conference’s second-best slugging percentage behind Williams (.542) and leads the conference with four triples. Senior first baseman Trevor Whyte has reached base in 19 straight games.
Cal Poly’s pitching staff has been revamped from last year’s squad with the addition of senior right-hander Steven Fischback, who is recently returning from an injury that he obtained after going 5-4 in 2008. Mustang junior right-hander Jeff Johnson — Cal Poly’s main closer — led the team in strikeouts with 53 last season and is expected to see time on the mound this weekend as well.
The Gauchos’ series against Cal Poly will begin at 3 p.m. today at Caesar Uyesaka stadium.