The word “rival” has many different definitions, but the UCSB baseball team defines the term in only one way: Long Beach State University.
After meeting only three days ago in a 12-inning Santa Barbara victory, the #25 Gauchos and the #30 Dirtbags renew acquaintances this weekend in what promises to be a contentious three-game series. In the late ’90s, Long Beach State held the upper hand in the rivalry, but recently the Gauchos have turned the tables, winning five out of the last six matchups against their division foe. UCSB’s recent success against LBSU, and the fact that UCSB holds a slim half-game lead over the Dirtbags in the Big West standings only adds fuel to the fire for the upcoming series.
“[LBSU] has some great pitching, that’s their forte,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “I expect this weekend to be a battle. There is no love lost between these two clubs. It’s a good college rivalry, and it’s going to be a dog fight.”
UCSB will hope to combat the Dirtbags’ potent pitching with an offense that boasts six of the Big West’s top 10 hitters. The Gauchos currently lead the conference in hitting and scoring, as well as in doubles, triples and RBIs.
But the impressive statistics don’t stop there. Eight of Santa Barbara’s regulars are hitting .300 or better, with senior shortstop Jeff Bannon – who’s hitting a sparkling .293 – the only exception. Throw in sophomore right fielder Ryan Spilborghs’ school record-tying 22-game hitting streak, and batters one through nine in the Gaucho lineup can hit nearly any hurler that toes the rubber.
And UCSB would love nothing more than to pummel a few Dirtbag hurlers this weekend.
“We think we should beat [LBSU] every time we play them,” senior third baseman Dave Molidor said. “We know we’re better than these guys, and I think they know it too. We have a lot of veterans on the club, so that whatever they come in here with, we’ll come with more. We have pent-up aggression against these guys for years.”
Senior designated hitter Mike Kolbach echoed Molidor’s sentiments and said the Gauchos are not about to let LBSU draw them into a trash-talking fest.
“It’s a pretty good rivalry, both last year and this year,” Kolbach said. “We definitely want to go out and beat these guys. There is some hatred there, but we don’t want to get caught up yelling back and forth [with LBSU].”
“We’re going to stick to our game,” junior shortstop Dave Licht said. “[Long Beach] does like to talk. They like to have their mouths do the talking, not their games. As long as we come away with a few wins, we’ll be happy.”
Should the UCSB offense fail to produce, the burden will fall on the able shoulders of the Gaucho pitching staff to shutdown LBSU. Santa Barbara’s hurlers are in the midst of a record-setting season, and setting the pace all year has been junior James Garcia, senior Rylie Ogle and sophomore Jim Bullard. The trio boasts a combined record of 24-5, and each starter has already picked up a Big West Pitcher of the Week award this season. Garcia leads the way for Santa Barbara with an 8-1 record and a 2.68 ERA. But Ogle and Bullard aren’t far behind, coming in with records of 9-2 and 7-2, respectively. The magnitude of this series is not lost on the Gaucho pitchers, but UCSB doesn’t feel any added pressure due to the circumstances.
“I don’t think there is any pressure on us this weekend,” Garcia said. “We are all confident in the dugout. We’re confident in our ability to be successful versus Long Beach. We fell we’re the better team, and if we play the way we can, we should come out on top.”
Especially fired-up this weekend will be Ogle, who transferred from LBSU after his sophomore campaign. The southpaw needs only one win to tie the school record for the most victories in a season, and Ogle would love nothing more than to have success against his old teammates.
The Long Beach series marks the beginning of the most important stretch of the season for Santa Barbara. After facing LBSU, Santa Barbara will head to Fullerton to play the conference-leading and #6 Titans in a critical three-game series. But for now, the Gauchos’ focus is on sticking it to the Dirtbags.
“I have a huge chip on my shoulder,” Molidor said. “I hate LBSU with a passion. They beat up on us my freshman and sophomore year, and they’re still always talking [junk]. I don’t care what they bring this weekend, we’ll be ready.”