The UCSB baseball team is headed into perhaps the biggest series of the year this weekend. The Gauchos hit the road and travel to No. 4 Cal State Fullerton to take on the first-place Titans, who remain undefeated so far this season in league play.
“Everyone knows the elephant in the room, that it is a big weekend,” junior shortstop Brandon Trinkwon said. “We need to prepare like its any other weekend, but in essence it’s a bit bigger of a deal. We just need to settle down and relax and play our game like we did last weekend and see if we can come away with a couple wins.”
The Titans are currently 29-4 this year and 6-0 in Big West play. They will welcome the Gauchos, 17-14 and 3-3 in the Big West, who have been hot as of late, winning three out of their last four and most recently winning on the road against Pepperdine on Tuesday.
Cal State Fullerton is among the very top in nearly every single offensive category in the Big West and leads in on base percentage, runs scored, hits, RBI, triples, total bases, walks and stolen bases.
Fullerton is not just an offensive machine, as this year they also hold the lowest ERA in the Big West and hold their opponents to the second lowest batting average with a .230 clip. Freshman pitcher Thomas Eshelman has dominated this season for the Titans. He currently holds a 1.09 ERA, a .158 opponent batting average and has thrown the most innings of any Big West pitcher.
The Titans also know how to close out games as they lead the league in saves thanks to junior outfielder/pitcher Michael Lorenzen, who has closed out 12 games to go along with his seven home runs and 35 RBI.
The Gauchos will look to continue the hot hitting they have displayed over the last week. Having shown they can score early and late in the game, the Gauchos are in no shortage of confidence heading into the weekend.
“Being able to put up some runs early and late is a big deal,” Trinkwon said. “It lets us know that if we do put up some runs early and happen to lose a lead that it’s not over and we can come back. I’m sure it will be tough to hold [Fullerton] to very little runs, so it will be a good thing that we can score later.”
Sophomore center fielder Cameron Newell will ride a 10-game hitting streak into Fullerton. He has scored a run in eight games over the streak, and half of the games have been multi-hit contests for the Gauchos’ leadoff hitter. Sophomore Woody Woodward, the Gauchos’ No. 2 hitter, has a five-game hitting streak in which he has scored five runs and driven in three. Woodward just missed hitting for the cycle on April 6 when he had a four-hit game against Cal Poly, needing a home run to complete the feat.
On the mound for the Gauchos on Friday will be sophomore starter Austin Pettibone. Pettibone leads the team with 56.2 innings pitched as he has anchored the staff. He leads UCSB starters with a 2.86 ERA and is tied for the team lead with four wins.
“It all starts on the mound and I have all the faith in the world in Austin Pettibone. He should go out and give us six or seven innings in his start and pound the strike zone and put pressure on them,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “I suspect guys throwing under the lights, where it’s a little harder to score, to have the run totals a little lower.”
Despite both teams toting top notch pitching staffs, evident by both teams being top four in ERA, opponent average and total runs allowed, the top three run producers in the Big West will be facing off in this series. Numbers one and two come from Cal State Fullerton in Lorenzen and sophomore infielder J.D. Davis and number three is Santa Barbara’s sophomore first baseman Tyler Kuresa.
“The bats are great, but the arms are great too, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 8-7 but I also wouldn’t be surprised if its 2-1,” Trinkwon said. “There are just so many good players playing in one weekend so it’s tough to tell.”
The big weekend kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. followed by another night game Saturday at 6 p.m. The series will conclude Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., at which point one team will come away as a major force in the Big West conference.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of April 11th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mark Brocher of the Daily Nexus.