Everyone knows that home is where the heart is. The UCSB baseball team hopes that home is also where more wins can be found.
The Gauchos return to the cozy confines of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this weekend after a road trip that saw them take three wins in four games to raise their record to 5-3. Santa Barbara will now play host to San Jose State in a three-game series of two evenly matched teams. SJSU is a team that UCSB anticipates will provide a good measuring stick for its early season progress.
“They’re usually a very good defensive team with lots of quality arms on the mound,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said of the Spartans. “They’re well coached and they have good fundamentals on offense. They’re very similar to what we’re trying to be.”
The Spartans are going to need all of those attributes to deal with a Gauchos squad that has found a balance of powerful offense and precision pitching. The bats came alive on the road and UCSB has scored runs in double digits in three of their last five games.
“Everyone’s more comfortable and our nerves are settling,” junior first baseman Josh McCanne said. “This team is capable of scoring a lot of runs.”
The offensive roll has been sparked largely by the emergence of two freshmen infielders, Matt Wilkerson and Chris Malec, who have effectively supported junior outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. Spilborghs leads the team with a .407 batting average.
“Malec’s had a lot of big hits,” Brontsema said. “He’s been good since the first day and Wilkerson has a lot of pressure hitting in the four hole, but he hasn’t let it bother him. They’ve both been key for us.”
The newfound offense has taken the pressure off of a pitching staff that has been nearly as strong as expected, despite the early season struggles of senior James Garcia, a returning All-American. Junior James Dayley has pitched strong in both of his starts, boasting a 2.45 ERA. After a rocky first outing sophomore ace Matt Vasquez responded with a superb outing at Santa Clara, throwing eight strong innings.
This is despite the fact that Garcia has had a sub-par start this season, going 0-2 with an ERA of 11.74. Garcia leads the team in a number of dubious categories, including hit batsmen, with four, and walks, with seven.
“I’ve been giving up free bases, hitting guys and walking them,” Garcia said. “We’ve made some mechanical adjustments though and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
“Garcia’s still a big part of our team,” Brontsema said. “He just needs to get command of his breaking ball.”
Game one’s first pitch has been moved up an hour and will now take place at 12 p.m. instead of the customary 1 p.m. start.