Springtime is still on the distant horizon, but baseball season is underway. Unfortunately, for the UCSB baseball team, the only things that were colder than the January air on Thursday afternoon were the bats wielded by the Gauchos.
Santa Barbara opened its regular season Thursday afternoon with a 5-0 loss to Loyola Marymount at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The Gauchos have only one returning starting position player and the other seven fielders’ lack of experience showed at the plate, as the team was able to knock out only five hits.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys that are just getting their feet wet,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We were tentative and little tight swinging the bat. Their pitcher threw a lot of strikes and he took advantage of our lack of aggressiveness.”
LMU pitcher Kevin Jenson went seven impressive innings against the Gauchos, giving up only three hits and striking out four to pick up the win.
“That was his first college game, but he threw well,” LMU Head Coach Frank Cruz said of Jenson. “We made some good plays behind him.”
UCSB countered with their returning ace right-hander, James Garcia. Garcia did not allow any hits through the first three innings, but he was forced to work in and out of trouble due to walks and hit-batsmen. The All-American pitched six innings, giving up five runs on five hits and five walks, while striking out seven.
“Garcia’s a great pitcher,” Cruz said. “I just told our guys to bear down and hang in there. He’s a proven winner in Division I ball, so we’re lucky to get a W.”
Garcia worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, and he was able to strand runners in scoring position in the third and fourth innings. However, in the fifth, LMU was able to break through. With runners on second and third, and one man out, Lions’ third baseman Tommy Perez singled just inside the third base line, scoring both runners. The next man up, right-fielder Christian Campos, lined a Garcia pitch just over the top of the wall in right-center to make the score 4-0.
The Lions would add a run in the seventh and the Gauchos were unable to respond. The lone offensive force for UCSB was junior right-fielder Ryan Spilborghs, who went three for four at the plate, including a towering double to center in the ninth inning that just missed clearing the fence.
“I guess I’ve got to get in the weight room,” Spilborghs said.
“Spilly’s experienced and he’s been through it,” Brontsema said. “This was nothing to him.”
Despite the opening day setback, both the coach and his star player see promise on this team.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the loss,” Brontsema said. “But our defense was good. We’ve been focusing on defense, and other than one throwing error and a double steal, we played well.”
Among the strong defensive players were freshman second baseman Chris Malec, who made a series of solid plays and sophomore third baseman Nate Sutton, who made an excellent diving stop to start a double play.
“This was just first game jitters,” Spilborghs said. “It was a lot of these guys’ first game at Division I. We’ve got great pitching and I don’t think I’ll have to carry the load on offense. We’ve got a lot of potential.”