Sometimes a pitching staff is just one good arm away from reaching its full potential, and for the UCSB baseball team the missing link turned out to be junior starter James Garcia.

A transfer from El Camino Junior College, Garcia has added poise and a healthy dose of spunk to the Gauchos, something UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said Santa Barbara had been lacking in the past.

“[Garcia] brings confidence and a little attitude to the club that we haven’t had before,” Brontsema said. “When we started in the fall our guys couldn’t touch him, and that started the confidence that has made our team a lot better.”

Garcia has backed up his self-assurance by excelling on the mound this season, leading UCSB in ERA (2.97), innings pitched (72.2), strikeouts (70) and by placing second in wins with six.

No start better demonstrated Garcia’s dominance than his most recent outing. In the Gauchos’ conference opener at Northridge, the hard-throwing righty went the distance, pitching the full nine innings and striking out a career-high 11 in the victory. For his troubles, Garcia was named Big West Pitcher of the Week.

“I was throwing a fastball and slider, the same as usual,” Garcia said. “I was just hitting my spots [against Northridge]. I didn’t even realize that I had 11 strikeouts until after the game someone told me.”

Garcia’s stellar year is only part of the story this season for the Santa Barbara pitching staff. Senior Rylie Ogle tops the club with eight wins, and sophomore Jim Bullard boasts a 6-2 record. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been the emergence of freshman starter Matt Vasquez, who is third on the team with a 3.35 ERA. In fact, the team ERA is a miniscule 4.30, which can be attributed to all of the Gaucho hurlers feeding off each other.

“They see what their teammates are doing, and no one wants to be the so-called ‘weak link,’ ” UCSB Pitching Coach Tom Meyers said. “Jim’s confidence has grown, and Vasquez has plugged in very nicely. He really emerged in his last start versus USC; he showed the poise of a veteran.”

Garcia’s impact on the rest of the pitching staff shouldn’t be underestimated, and the junior has turned into somewhat of a team leader for UCSB.

“James is a hard worker,” Meyers said. “He leads by his performance on the hill, but also by his example in practice. When he steps between the white lines there is no one tougher. He’s a great addition to our pitching staff.”