This Thursday, the Gauchos (4-7) will begin a four-game series in Provo, Utah to take on the Brigham Young University Cougars (4-6). The Gauchos, after being swept by the Kentucky Wildcats this past weekend, are looking to rebound against the Cougars.
The story of the season so far for the ’Chos has been the lack of offense. Through 11 games, UCSB has a team batting average of .213, a Big West Conference worst. On top of this, the ’Chos are eighth in the Big West for most offensive strikeouts with 86 total Ks.
Even the power numbers for the ’Chos are unsettling. The Gauchos only have 11 doubles and zero triples, both bottom numbers in the Big West. However, the Gauchos are tied with Cal State University Northridge for second for most home runs in the Big West with seven. With these seven home runs, though, UCSB has only managed to score a total of 41 runs, 14 of which came in one game against Tulane on Feb. 25.
Although these numbers are worrisome, it is important to note how early it is in the season. People forget this is still “Spring Training” for some college hitters.
As more and more hitters find their rhythm and timing, the ’Chos will string together some great at-bats at a more consistent basis. After all, hits do come in bunches, and hitting is contagious.
The Cougars’ pitching staff will provide a tough challenge for Gaucho hitters to get out of this slump, though. Cougar pitching has a pretty solid team ERA of 3.46, giving up only 35 earned runs total in ten games. With UCSB having a predominately lefty lineup, the six left-handed pitchers featured on the BYU roster will also give the Gauchos some trouble.
The predicted starters that the Gauchos will face in this four-game series are RHPs senior Brady Coreless (2-0), junior Maverik Buffo (1-2), senior Kendall Motes (0-1) and potentially LHP junior Hayden Rogers (0-0). Coreless is the Cougar ace who owns an impressive 1.89 ERA with 23 strikeouts through 19.0 innings pitched.
The other two right-handed starters, Buffo and Motes, have had much rougher outings recently as their respective ERAs of 4.50 and 5.14 show. Lefty Rogers will be tough if he gets his second start of the season. Rogers holds a 2.38 ERA with 11.1 innings and six strikeouts.
The Cougar offense is also something not to glance over. Coming into the series, BYU will have five different hitters hitting above the .300 mark. Currently leading the Cougar offense is sophomore right fielder Brock Hale. Hale is hitting for both average and power with a .385 average, three doubles and two home runs on top of driving in nine runs. Even though this offense looks strong on paper, they will face an even stronger Gaucho pitching staff.
UCSB’s pitching staff has been the most reliable part of this year’s team. Sophomore starters Noah Davis (2-1) and junior Kyle Nelson (1-2) have been pitching exceptionally well with ERAs of 2.14 and 3.14. Still the third and fourth spots in the rotation are up for grabs.
Redshirt junior Joe Record (0-1, 9.1 IP, 5.79 ERA), the typical Sunday starter for the ’Chos, was moved to the bullpen last week after having a couple rough outings. Junior Steven Ledesma (0-1 10.1, 5.23 ERA) was given the ball instead for his first ever start, but even after pitching impressively in the Gaucho bullpen, Ledesma was rocked, giving up five earned runs in 1.2 innings pitched.
Junior RHP Chris Clements (0-2, 11.1 IP, 3.18 ERA) is currently in position to take this third spot in the rotation with a decent outing against Saint Mary’s his last start, giving up only two earned runs.
Still, either Record or Ledesma will make a start this weekend for the Gauchos with the four-game series.
Regardless of how the Gauchos pitch, it will all come down to offense at the end of the series. UCSB will need to get runners on base and execute their signature West Coast Style Small Ball offense to get runs on the board. Aforementioned, if the Gauchos can string together a couple of good at-bats, an offensive fire could spark to the likes that we have already seen this year in the Tulane series.
A version of this story appeared on p. 8 of the March 9, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.