The UCSB baseball team has won many important series over the course of the 2001 season.
Taking two out of three from longtime nemesis Long Beach State helped remove a huge monkey from the Gauchos’ back. Winning the series against then #1 Fullerton solidified Santa Barbara as a legit national power.
Neither of those series, however, carried with it the implications of UCSB’s upcoming series with Cal Poly. Heading into the final series of the year, the Gauchos (38-13, 11-4 in the Big West) are just one game behind Fullerton in the race for the conference crown. Santa Barbara will need a sweep of the Mustangs, plus a little help from an unlikely source, to win the Big West Title.
“Our first task at hand is Friday,” UCSB pitching Coach Tom Myers said. “We’re not looking to Saturday or Sunday. We need to beat Cal Poly. If we take care of business, hopefully everything will fall into place.”
If UCSB does sweep Cal Poly, it will still need a loss from Fullerton to pull into a tie with the Titans at the top of the Big West standings. Santa Barbara owns the tiebreaker over Fullerton by virtue of its series victory earlier this year, meaning that only then would the Gauchos take the title.
But rooting for a Fullerton loss puts the Gauchos in the unusual position of pulling for Long Beach State, which finishes its season against the Titans.
“It’s nice to root for your enemy when they might give you a league championship,” Myers said. “But this will probably be the only time we’ll root for them.”
To get the job done this weekend against Cal Poly, Santa Barbara will send its usual trio of starters to the mound. Junior James Garcia will get to start Friday, followed by senior Rylie Ogle on Saturday and sophomore Jim Bullard on Sunday. Garcia has led the way for UCSB for most of the season, compiling a 10-1 record and a 2.48 ERA. The transfer from El Camino Junior College also leads the Gauchos with 98 strikeouts and 108.2 innings pitched.
The Gauchos’ pitching staff understands the magnitude of the Cal Poly series but is keeping its cool, according to Garcia.
“I don’t feel any added pressure for a win because I only pitch one day,” Garcia said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my job to the best of my ability, and hope that not only Friday, but every game, falls into place for us.”
The UCSB hurlers should feel comfortable heading into the series with the Mustangs knowing that they have the top hitting team in the Big West to fall back on. The Gauchos are hitting .340 as a team, led by sophomore center fielder Skip Schumaker at .398 and senior third baseman Dave Molidor at .397. Molidor is coming off of an impressive game against UCLA, which included a monster home run over the center-field fence.
“I was coming off of a frustrating weekend against Fullerton,” Molidor said Tuesday. “It was definitely a frustrating weekend. To come out here and play the way we did, and for me to contribute the way I did, felt good.”
The Gauchos will need all the firepower they can get if they are to sweep a talented Cal Poly squad this weekend. And though Santa Barbara will certainly be interested in the results of the LBSU-CSUF series, its main focus will be on bringing out the brooms against Cal Poly.
“We just want to win the series,” sophomore right fielder Ryan Spilborghs said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. It would be great to get a sweep because that might mean a Big West championship.”