Off to one of its best starts in program history, the UCSB baseball team looks to stay hot in the desert for this weekend’s tournament at Arizona University, where it will face powerhouses Mississippi State as well as the Wildcats.
UCSB enters the Hi Corbett Classic winners of eight of its first nine games of the season, including six straight wins. However, the Gauchos still see room for improvement despite their record.
“I don’t think we’re good enough where we’re at right now to achieve the goals we set for ourselves,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “I think the guys know that, and they’re motivated to get better and improve.”
In its previous exhibition match earlier in the week, the Gauchos defeated Waseda University of Japan in a quick 2-1 contest.
In that game, UCSB runs were hard to put together after previously scoring 38 runs in last weekend’s series against Princeton. However, the Gauchos benefitted from two pinch-hits in the bottom of the ninth inning, one of those coming off the bat of junior first baseman Tyler Kuresa, who knocked in the game-winning run.
Kuresa has had a hot start to the season, leading the team with 12 RBI and slugging .529 with a respectable .265 batting average. Senior infielder Joey Epperson has had even more of an impressive start to the campaign. Last week’s Big West Player of the Week leads the Gauchos with a .500 clip and .781 slugging percentage. His two home runs are tied with Kuresa for most on the team.
For the UCSB pitching staff, consistency has been the theme in its recent games. The staff allowed two hits to Waseda and shutout Princeton University in the game before that. The team has averaged nearly eight strikeouts per game and a 2.54 ERA.
“When they get ahead and throw strikes and they stay ahead, it gives us a good chance,” junior infielder Woody Woodward said. “They just have to put ground balls in play and we’re going to make those outs.”
With UCSB’s offense and pitching coming off stellar performances, Friday’s first game against No. 12 Mississippi St. will be a highly contested matchup. The Bulldogs come in at 10-4 and winners of six straight games.
Although Mississippi St. enters with a high ranking, UCSB has won against a ranked opponent this season, upsetting defending champion UCLA on the road. Still, the team’s focus remains on improving upon each game.
“We try to get better every day and that’s the only thing we can control: our attitude, effort and mentality,” Woodward said.
UCSB will play an afternoon contest against the Bulldogs one more time on Saturday before playing again in the evening versus the Wildcats for a double header.
The hosts have a 6-7 record and will look to gain some momentum in its own tournament before the start of conference play. Arizona will play the Gauchos again on Sunday to complete the four-game weekend.
First pitch on Friday against the Bulldogs is for 2 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of March 6th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.