This weekend, the UCSB baseball team will welcome third-place UC Irvine onto its home field for a chance to move into the top of the Big West Conference standings.
The Gauchos have captured series wins the past two weekends, going 5-2 over their last seven games. The Gauchos are 23-19 so far this year and sit in a tie for fifth place with Cal Poly at 8-7 in the Big West. Either team can make a big push this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Anteaters are 28-13 overall this season and are 10-5 in the Big West, sitting just two games behind first place Cal State Fullerton.
“We just need to keep preparing like we have been preparing,” junior shortstop Brandon Trinkwon said. “We realize it’s coming down the stretch and that we need to play really good baseball if we are going to make a regional run. So we just need to stay focused and stay healthy.”
Irvine holds the third-best batting average in the Big West at .286 as a team thanks in large part to sophomore first baseman Connor Spencer and sophomore third baseman Taylor Sparks. Spencer hits 387, which leads the Big West, while Sparks maintains a .345 average.
However talented the opposing offense may be, the Gaucho pitching staff has showed it is as good as any to shut down the opposition. Sophomore starting pitcher Austin Pettibone leads the Big West in innings pitched with 79.2, and his 6-2 record and 2.60 ERA are tops among Santa Barbara starters.
Following up Pettibone has been freshman pitcher Justin Jacome, who has been quite impressive in his own right this season. Jacome has thrown 65 innings en route to a 4-3 record on the season but has struck out 45 in that span. In his last outing against Riverside, Jacome struck out six and allowed just two hits over seven and two-thirds innings.
Irvine’s pitching staff has impressed as well this year, however, and will be a tough group for the UCSB offense to conquer. The Anteaters’ pitchers have a team ERA of just 3.18 this year and are second in the Big West at striking out opposing hitters.
Behind both pitching staffs are some stellar defensive teams. The Anteaters lead the Big West with a .983 fielding percentage while the Gauchos hold perhaps one of the best shortstops in the league in junior Brandon Trinkwon.
“We obviously need to come out and swing the bats. We have got some guys on the bump that are pretty special so we just need to see strikes and hit strikes,” Trinkwon said. “As far as defense, we just need to play behind our pitchers. We’re pretty good and have home field advantage, so that should help us a little bit. Besides that, we just need to play our game.”
Over the last couple weeks, the Gauchos offense has really picked up the pace. They have outscored opponents 31-19 over the past four games. Leading the charge has been sophomore center fielder Cameron Newell, who earned Big West Player of the Week honors with his performance over his last four games.
Newell went 9-14 with four RBI last week, including two three-hit performances. Newell has seen himself drop in the lineup from leadoff into more opportunistic RBI spots as his bat has continued to heat up. Since losing his 12-game hitting streak April 14, Newell has just started a new streak. He has hit safely now in eight games and has driven in at least one run in four of the last eight games.
This weekend’s series will get under way on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. First pitch drops back an hour each day as Saturday’s game will begin at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s matchup starts at 1 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of May 2nd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.