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Beginning today, the UCSB baseball team will cap off its 2014 regular season campaign when it goes on the road to face UC Davis in a must-win series. This will be the final opportunity the Gauchos have to boost their résumé before their postseason fate is decided by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“We can’t control whether or not we’re going to get into the playoffs this weekend,” junior first baseman Tyler Kuresa said, “but we can control how we play and what kind of energy, and what kind of focus we bring to these next three games. We’re going to try to come out of this weekend with a sweep.”
Santa Barbara enters the contest in sixth place with a 9-12 Big West mark and at 31-17-1 overall after taking two games from the University of San Francisco in its last series. UCD comes one place behind the Gauchos with a 7-14 league record and 23-28 overall record.
Despite having more losses than wins in the Big West this year, the Gauchos still have a shot at qualifying for the postseason if they can sweep Davis. UCSB will have to sneak its way in by earning an at-large berth where the selection committee will decide UCSB’s season based on factors such as the team’s strength of schedule and wins against top opponents.
“We’re trying to focus on the process of playing good baseball,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “We got away from that; we looked at the scoreboard standings more than we should have.”
For teams on the bubble such as the Gauchos, earning an RPI that lands within the top 45 in the nation increases the likelihood of the team qualifying. As of now, UCSB has an RPI of 57, six spots ahead of where it was last week.
Santa Barbara, however, is familiar with late-season pressure. Last year, the Gauchos were in a similar circumstance and needed to sweep their final series to earn a spot in the field. UCSB did just that and found a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2001. Yet, that team finished 17-10 in conference while this year’s squad can best hope for an even Big West mark with a sweep.
UCSB will need everything to go its way against the Aggies, beginning with starting pitching. In its last two weekend series, Santa Barbara has found success with sophomore Justin Jacome and junior Austin Pettibone on the mound.
In Jacome’s last two starts he has allowed only two earned runs and increased his innings pitched to 72.1 on the season, the most on the staff. Meanwhile, Pettibone has been even more dominant than Jacome in his last two outings. The ace of the staff has thrown two complete-game shutouts, striking out a combined 15 batters and allowing only nine hits.
Where the Gauchos have struggled recently is finding a quality third starting pitcher to throw in the third game of the series. On the last two occasions, UCSB has failed to win Sunday games when taking the first two games. Those losses have consisted of the Gauchos struggling to recover from early deficits caused by a lack of quality pitching.
While the starters will dictate the early-to-mid innings of the game, the bullpen will be just as valuable to secure wins in late-game situations. Sophomore closer Dillon Tate has been UCSB’s go-to pitcher during crunch time. Tate has 11 saves on the season, second in the Big West, and leads the conference with a 0.87 ERA.
“I just kept working every day,” Tate said. “I was just trying to get better and do something that would benefit me and help my team out.”
On paper, the Gauchos seem to overwhelm the Aggies on offense, given that UCD has the worst ERA in the league at 4.46. As a staff, Davis has given up the most earned runs and walks in the Big West, with 218 and 211, respectively. With Santa Barbara hitting a collective .286, the team will attempt to get on the board fast.
First pitch today is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of May 22, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Cameryn Brock of the Daily Nexus.