Riverside doesn’t join the Big West until next season, but it will get an early dose of the conference this weekend when it faces the UCSB baseball team in a three-game series.
The Gauchos are playing their best baseball in over a decade heading into the series, sprinting out to a 22-8 record. After winning 12 out of their last 13 games, Santa Barbara now owns the best record in the Big West, and is looking to maintain its success against UCR.
“We are certainly playing well in all three phases of the game,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We’ve made improvements on the defensive end and that’s made a big difference.”
Another reason for the Gauchos’ fast start is the pitching staff. It is said that good pitching beats good hitting, and UCSB’s hurlers have performed brilliantly. Santa Barbara can send both quality and quantity to the mound this season, which is different than in years past.
“This year we can bring in a lot of guys with good arms off the bench,” Brontsema said. “In the past we’ve had walk-on guys coming in to pitch.”
Leading the way on the mound this weekend for UCSB will be the trio of senior Rylie Ogle, junior James Garcia, and sophomore Jim Bullard. Although the entire pitching staff has been impressive thus far, Ogle has stood out above the rest, going 7-1 with a 2.81 ERA.
“I just try to hold each team I face under four runs,” Ogle said. “I’ve been doing that all season, and when your offense is scoring eight or nine runs a game, that’s all you need to do.”
But winning teams don’t rely on pitching alone, and UCSB is no different. The Gauchos offense has been putting runs on the board all season long, allowing the pitchers to throw with confidence. Santa Barbara leads the nation in hitting with a .354 team average, and if that’s not enough, it is also seventh in the country in scoring, averaging 9.1 runs a game. Leading the barrage for UCSB is senior third baseman Dave Molidor, who ranks 37th in the nation with a .426 batting average.
“Basically, I just take [a pitch] in my first at-bat to see what the pitcher has,” Molidor said. “By the fourth at-bat usually I’ll swing on the first pitch. I just try to see what the pitcher has and adjust to that.”
With everything coming together, Santa Barbara hopes to continue destroying its opponents right into Big West play. But the Gauchos are not about to look past UCR, and will look to take their game to even greater heights this weekend.
“You always want to get better,” Brontsema said. “We still have a little room for improvement and we want to stay healthy and stay on this roll. Obviously, we are going to stay with our mentality of taking it one game at a time.”