The UCSB baseball team will be kicking off its preseason schedule with a three-game road trip to Fresno beginning tonight to face the Bulldogs, ranked the number four team in the Mountain West Conference.
“We are playing to win. We will have a pitch limit on our starters just because it is early in the season but they have been able to extend out and get themselves in shape enough to go out there for a hundred pitches or so,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “There will be some mixing and matching and varied lineups just because we are so young and still trying to figure out what exactly we have, but we are going to play to win.”
UCSB is led by second year coach Checketts, who last season recorded the most wins of a first year head coach at UCSB by going 28-28. Looking to build upon last season, Checketts has recruited an impressive class to compliment returning players like junior shortstop Brandon Trinkwon and senior third baseman Marc Venning. The 2012 recruitment class has been ranked No. 12 in the country by Baseball America and No. 18 in the nation by Perfect Game, both being program highs. Checketts has received much of his own accolades this preseason as he has been named as a “Top 10 College Head Coach under 40” by Baseball America and a “Coach on the Rise” by Perfect Game.
Along with managerial duties, Checketts is also the squads pitching coach. Under the guidance of Checkets last season, sophomore pitcher Andrew Vasquez finished the year with a 1.93 ERA and was the first Gaucho freshman to strike out over 100 batters since current San Francisco Giant and former Gaucho Barry Zito. His freshman season earned him second team Big West honors and was named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team. Vasquez will headline the powerful pitching staff of the Gauchos and start game one of the series against the Bulldogs tonight.
Santa Barbara pitchers will be tested early this season as Fresno’s junior outfielder Aaron Judge is coming off a season in which he earned First Team Honors in the Western Athletic Conference and won the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby.
“[We] have to try to minimize around him. The best thing to do is make sure he is hitting with nobody on base,” Checketts said. “We need to do a good job of getting the guys hitting in front of him in the lineup out. I think if we can do a good job with that I trust our pitching staff against him and that they have good enough stuff to get him out.”
This weekend’s games begin at 6:35 p.m. both tonight and Saturday. Sunday’s game starts at 1:05 p.m. with Vasquez taking the mound in game one followed by sophomore pitcher Austin Pettibone on Saturday, while the Sunday starter is still to be announced.