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It is always a big story when David defeats Goliath, no matter how early it is in the season. That is the case for the UCSB baseball team after defeating the defending national champion on the road this past Tuesday.
However, the team must now turn its focus to its first home series of the season against Princeton University beginning this Friday.
While Princeton is making its season debut, the Gauchos are already five games into the season with a record of 4-1, their best start to a season in more than a decade. The matchup is the first meeting between the two teams.
UCSB enters the game after one of its biggest regular season wins in recent memory with a victory over powerhouse UCLA on Tuesday. The win marked the first road victory against the Bruins since 2011 and the program’s first win against a defending champ since 1999.
In that game, Santa Barbara had a solid outing from sophomore pitcher Domenic Mazza who went into the sixth inning allowing only two runs to the potent Bruin offense. UCSB also benefitted from timely hitting by junior infielders Tyler Kuresa and Pete Maris who each went deep: Together they accounted for five of UCSB’s six runs in the game.
So far in the season, the Gauchos have relied on its bullpen to get them out of trouble in late game situations. Sophomore Dillon Tate has converted on both of his save opportunities and junior Greg Mahle is developing into a reliable setup man for Tate. Before Tuesday’s game, the bullpen came in with a 2.40 ERA.
UCSB has been on an offensive tear as of late, as it has put up a combined 16 runs in its past two games. Senior third baseman Joey Epperson has excelled at the top of the lineup and leads the team with a .450 batting average, while Kuresa has been the Gaucho’s power hitter with two homeruns in five games.
In its first game of the season, Princeton enters looking to improve on last year’s 14-28 finish where the team was mostly hurt by its fielding errors; the Tigers had the most in their conference with 74.
Although being among the middle of the conference in batting average and ERA last season, the Tigers return players capable of becoming big threats this season. Senior infielder/outfielder Alec Keller batted .378 with four homeruns and will be counted on to lead the offensive production for the young Princeton squad this year.
Another potential threat in the lineup of the Tigers is sophomore infielder Danny Hoy who managed a .307 batting average to go along with 21 RBIs and two homers.
On the mound, sophomore Cameron Mingo will have to step up for the Tigers after the loss of their two best pitchers from last year. The right-handed pitcher posted an ERA of 2.92 and 1-4 record last season and is one of the best prospects in the Tiger’s conference.
Friday’s opening game at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of February 27, 2014′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.