In Big West baseball every series counts, and that’s just the point the UCSB men’s baseball team will take to heart this weekend.
The Gauchos head to Sacramento on Friday to open a three-game series against Sacramento State, a team that doesn’t carry the prestige of some other teams in the Big West. However, Santa Barbara knows the perils of looking past SSU, which took two out of three games from UCSB last season.
“We went up there last year, took them lightly and played terrible,” senior third baseman Dave Molidor said. “We can’t take anybody lightly this year, and I don’t think we will with Sacramento State.”
The importance of this series cannot be underestimated, with the Gauchos already trailing conference favorites Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State in the Big West standings. The Titans lead the conference with a 5-1 record thanks to a sweep of Sacramento State, a result Santa Barbara is hoping for this weekend.
“This is a huge series for us to pick up some games on Fullerton and Long Beach,” sophomore center fielder Skip Schumaker said. “A sweep is definitely needed there. Winning two out of three would be nice, but a sweep is needed if we want to catch Fullerton and Long Beach.”
Pitching in game one for UCSB will be junior James Garcia. The righty is coming off his best start as a Gaucho after throwing a complete game against Northridge last weekend. Garcia knows that by winning game one on Friday he can give Santa Barbara extra confidence heading into the weekend.
“I feel that on our team the pitching sets the tone,” Garcia said. “I try to take that to heart and do all that I can on the mound.”
Garcia and the rest of the Gaucho pitching staff should feel comfortable on the hill, knowing that the UCSB offense is going to provide more than ample run support. Santa Barbara is hitting a robust .350 as a team, good for second in the nation, and each week someone else steps up his performance at the plate.
Last weekend it was sophomore right fielder Ryan Spilborghs, who went 3-4 with three RBI’s and three runs scored on Sunday against Northridge. Spilborghs, who also hit his first home run of the season against the Matadors, now owns a 16-game hitting streak and a .364 average. But if no new star comes out of the woodwork this weekend, UCSB can always count on its leading hitter, Molidor, who bombed two homers against the Matadors.
While the sluggers in the middle of the order – such as Molidor and junior third baseman Tyler Von Schell – receive most of the attention, it is the man at the top of the lineup that sets the stage and gets UCSB rolling.
As the Gauchos’ leadoff man, Skip Schumaker carries a .457 on base percentage and has stolen a team leading 14 bases in 19 attempts this season. But while the sophomore is proud of his thievery, Schumaker knows that occupying the top spot in the order is all about getting on base.
“I try to get on base any way I can,” Schumaker said. “I don’t care if it’s through an error, a walk or a hit. Our lineup is so potent with guys like Molidor and Von Schell, I know that I’ll get driven in if I can get on base.”
It is that type of team-first attitude that has propelled UCSB to its best start since 1984. The Gauchos will need to continue playing selfless baseball to come away with a sweep this weekend and pick up ground on CSUF and LBSU in the process.
“We know that to win in conference we have to play well, and we’ll need to play well to win [at Sacrament State],” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It’s a tough place to play, and we know that we have a big challenge ahead of us.”