The #20 UCSB baseball team is not done proving its mettle just yet.
Coming off of series wins over Big West rival Cal State Long Beach and then #1 Cal State Fullerton, the Gauchos take on UCLA today at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Santa Barbara and the Bruins squared off earlier this season, with UCSB falling 6-5 in 14 innings.
The rematch gives the Gauchos (37-13, 11-4 in the Big West) another chance to prove themselves against a big name school, and gain some respect nationally.
“We lost to UCLA in extra-innings last time,” senior catcher Donovan Warrecker said. “And we had the game in hand when we lost. We feel extremely confident coming into the UCLA game. Everyone is coming together, and we all have confidence in each other. I think we can do some damage against UCLA.”
Warrecker should know a thing or two about bringing the pain against the Gauchos’ opponents. The senior backstop led the way against Fullerton, going 4-9 with four RBIs. Warrecker also nearly belted a home run, but was robbed by Titan center fielder Chris Stringfellow. The hitting surge is due to swing modifications made during the week, according to Warrecker.
“I made some adjustments in practice during the week,” Warrecker said. “I worked on getting my front foot down in time and leveling my swing. … It’s hard making adjustments unless someone notices and helps you, so I was lucky that [pitching] Coach [Tom] Meyers noticed something.”
Warrecker is just one of many Gauchos swinging the bat well. In fact, the entire team has been hitting well lately. UCSB carries a .348 batting average, with eight players hitting above .300.
Sophomore Skip Schumaker tops the Gauchos with a .401 average. Not far behind the leadoff hitter are senior third baseman Dave Molidor (.395) and senior second baseman Chad Peshke (.381). Fourth on the list is the man who is riding a school record, 29-game hitting streak, sophomore right fielder Ryan Spilborghs.
But continuing the streak has not come easily to Spilborghs. Twice during the Fullerton series, “Spilly” didn’t record a hit until the ninth inning.
“The hitting streak was in jeopardy,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “[Spilborghs] made the second out in the eighth inning on Sunday. So his teammates picked him up, and he did the rest.”
Making the start against the Bruins will be freshman hurler Matt Vasquez. The righty is 4-3 on the season with a 3.54 ERA, good for fourth-best on the Gauchos. Though only a freshman, Vasquez is familiar with the Bruins. In the 14-inning marathon earlier this season, Vasquez picked up the loss, the first of his career. But Vasquez has improved by leaps and bounds since then, and should be ready to go Tuesday.
“He’s matured and developed since [the first game],” Meyers said. “All season long he’s gotten better and better, and I foresee him pitching well for us tomorrow.”
Though the Bruins’ game will not impact the Gauchos’ standing in the Big West, Santa Barbara is primed to avenge its earlier loss. UCSB knows that a win will only help them move up in the rankings, something Santa Barbara feels it deserves.
“We want UCLA bad,” Schumaker said. “We had the [first] game in the bag in the ninth inning and we had it in the bag in the 12th inning. We just didn’t close it out. We know we can play with anybody, and we want to prove it. We want UCLA just like we wanted Fullerton.”