By Justin Goldman

Staff Writer

Dreams of winning big are commonplace for anyone who makes the pilgrimage to Las Vegas, but for the UCSB baseball team, winning big has an entirely different definition.

This weekend the Gauchos will travel to Las Vegas for the three-game UNLV Tournament. It will be the first time that Santa Barbara has competed in the tournament, where it hopes to improve its 7-5 season record against Michigan State, Creighton and UNLV. UCSB will open play on Friday at 1 p.m. against Michigan State.

“Michigan State is very similar to the kind of team that we were last year,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “They have a lot of key returning players, including a couple of All-Americans. One of those guys is the starter we’ll see on Friday.”

The Gauchos will counter in the opener with their own All-American, right-hander James Garcia (0-3). He struggled early, but Garcia seems to have righted his ship, pitching into the eighth inning in his last start against San Jose State. Though he got stuck with a loss in a 2-1 pitcher’s duel, he lowered his ERA by four points.

“We were very encouraged by that start,” Brontsema said. “He had very good command, which is what he’d been lacking the first couple of times out. Teams hadn’t been hitting him well, but he’d been hurting himself.”

Santa Barbara will continue to throw good arms at the opposition, with solid junior starter James Dayley (1-0, 4.50 ERA) going on Saturday at noon against Creighton, and red hot sophomore Matt Vasquez (2-1, 3.20) on the hill against the Runnin’ Rebels on Sunday afternoon at three.

The Gauchos will be looking to rebound from an ugly 9-7 loss to Northridge on Tuesday in which they committed a season-high six errors.

“We really just had one bad inning,” Brontsema said. “That was what made the difference. We’re hoping it was just a hiccup. We worked on some things in practice, and there were a few freak plays that won’t repeat themselves. We’re anticipating a much better performance.”

UCSB showed the resilience that has become characteristic of its team in battling back from an 8-2 deficit to make things close against CSUN. The Gauchos’ resolve is also evident in their 3-1 record on the road. The only question is, are the players tough enough to resist Sin City’s cornucopia of temptation.

“There’ll be some distraction in Vegas,” Brontsema said. “Hopefully we’ll be mature enough to know that we’re there to play baseball.”