The No. 18 UCSB baseball team is back in the top 20 in the national rankings after sweeping Hawaii this past weekend and now will look to continue its hot streak when it rematches against Pepperdine.
“We are not going to take them lightly even if it is a home game.” senior third baseman Ryan Clark said. “They are a good ball club.”
The Gauchos are currently in the midst of a four-game winning streak and now stand at 29-10-1 overall and second in the Big West with an 8-4 conference record.
UCSB is in the middle of an impressive home winning streak that has spanned 16 matches and is now the best mark in school history. The team also boasts a 20-1 overall home record on the season, another program record.
The Waves heads into its second match-up of the season against the Gauchos with a respectable 20-18 record and a 10-8 conference record. Pepperdine already coasted by Santa Barbara once this season winning the March 29 match 6-2, at home.
These two teams have already met once before with the aforementioned victor being the Waves. Although Santa Barbara has been almost unbeatable at home, however, on the road it has struggled mustering a 6-9-1 record which could have played a factor in the last game.
“They took it to us a bit at there place.” Clark said. “We just got to come out swinging and play better.”
Another big factor in the late march match-up was redshirt junior infielder Matt Crowder who went 3-4 (.750) on the day and scored one run that gave Pepperdine the 3-2 advantage and the team never looked back.
Sophomore infielder Matt Bernard also had a solid outing going 1-2 (.500) with one RBI and two runs.
As an entire staff, Pepperdine’s pitching was on point surrendering only five hits and two runs through the nine innings, with sophomore Matt Green picking up the victory after allowing only two hits and no runs in 3.2 innings pitched.
During the course of the season, the Waves have gotten great performances from junior Manny Jefferson who leads the team in RBI (33), home runs (10), hits (44) and slugging percentage (.579). The infielder won West Coast Conference Player of the Week two weeks ago after hitting four home runs during the week.
Pepperdine also has one of the best pitchers in D1 NCAA baseball in A.J. Puckett. The junior is fifth in the NCAA in ERA (1.01) and has not allowed an earned run in his last seven starts and 54.2 innings — the longest streak of any pitcher this season.
The Gauchos will look to its slew of hitters to help take care of the Waves good pitching staff which has been solid all season posting a 3.99 team ERA which ranks 88th in the country out of 295.
Big time hitters to watch out for will be sophomore Austin Bush who leads the team in RBI (32), hits (44) and slugging percentage (.508). Sophomore catcher Dempsey Grover is another solid hitter batting .309, third best on the team, and is coming off a solid five-RBI weekend.
Another interesting storyline will be the return of redshirt junior James Carter who will be the starting pitcher tomorrow. The right-hander will see his first action this season after rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery.
“We are excited to see him come back for us.” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “He was a solid closer for us last year and we will see what happens.”
Last season he earned the honors of being the teams closer and registered five saves and one win in seven appearances allowing six hits and no earned runs in 9.2 innings pitched while also striking out 12 batters.
The California native did not appear in a game after March 6 due to injury but was still taken in the 27th round of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Houston Astros before ultimately deciding to come back to UCSB.
“He was drafted even though he was injured and I think that is a testament to how good he was,” Coach Checketts said. “It will be interesting to see how he comes back, overall we are excited.”
While it is unclear how long Carter will pitch, what is clear is the hope that he can bounce back well from his injury and help a pitching staff that, although is solid, is a bit short staffed and could use some help.
The Gauchos have already avenged a loss against a team it lost to early in the year which was St. Mary’s and will hope to do the same against Pepperdine.
Not only would they avenge an earlier loss, but a win against the Waves would improve an already great season and would extend a record that is ongoing.
UCSB’s faces off against Pepperdine today at Ceasar Uyesaka Stadium at 3 p.m. in hopes of improving its 16 game home winning streak.