The UCSB baseball team is enjoying an extraordinary season. Currently ranked 20th in the country in two national polls, the Gauchos boast a 38-13 record, and are on the cusp of a Big West championship.
Santa Barbara’s success has originated from excelling in all three phases of the game: pitching, defense and hitting. While the Gauchos have more than held their own in the first two, it is their performance at the plate that has, perhaps, shined the brightest this season. Batters one through nine in the UCSB lineup are all legitimate threats at the dish, and each hitter brings something different to the table.
“The only lineup that I can compare it to was the 1986 team that set the [batting] mark at .348,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Our ’96 lineup was pretty good as well. But this lineup has the ability to do lots of different things. We have guys that can hit the long ball, execute and get a stolen base.”
A mixture of new faces (sophomore center fielder Skip Schumaker, and junior left fielder Jed Stringham) and holdovers from years past (senior third baseman Dave Molidor and senior second baseman Chad Peshke) have combined to make the Gaucho lineup that is hazardous for opposing pitchers. But while the offense is in the midst of a superb year, only two players are having a record-setting season: junior first baseman Tyler Von Schell and sophomore right fielder Ryan Spilborghs.
As an All-Big West selection last season, much was expected of Von Schell coming into the 2001 campaign. The man known as “Bomber” has delivered in a big way, hitting .324 with a .652 slugging percentage. But Von Schell isn’t nicknamed “Bomber” for nothing. The junior recently set the UCSB record for home runs in a season, blasting his 18th of the season Tuesday against UCLA.
“It’s not a big deal,” Von Schell said of breaking the record. “I thought that 17 was cooler – I didn’t worry after that. Anything on top of 17 is just a bonus.”
While the Gauchos were expecting a big year from Von Schell, they could not have foreseen the season being put together by Ryan Spilborghs.
After starting slowly, “Spilly” has caught fire hitting out of the nine hole. The right fielder is currently riding a 30-game hitting streak, during which he has raised his batting average to .385 and his on-base percentage to a team leading .465.
Any hitting streak involves a lot of skill and a little bit of luck, but Spilborghs is quick to recognize the role his teammates have played in keeping his streak alive.
“Our lineup and my teammates I have around me have been a huge factor,” Spilborghs said. “Teams don’t have to worry about me, so I go undetected. I’ve been getting a lot of pitches to hit.”
But for Santa Barbara to attain its goals of winning the Big West and advancing deep into the playoffs, it will mean players setting aside their personal goals. That should be no problem for this UCSB club that has developed great chemistry in the clubhouse.
“Our statistics are a result of our chemistry and hard work,” Brontsema said. “It’s what they’ve done all season to prepare. Preparation has helped them for that bond, and winning melds it all together.”
Spilborghs, for one, is more than willing to give up his hitting streak if it means helping UCSB notch a few more victories.
“I’d rather do whatever it takes to win games [than keep the streak going],” Spilborghs said. “Wins are what are going to get us to Regionals and hopefully the World Series. That’s what we want to do.”