To get a shot at NCAA Regionals the Gauchos will have to do one thing: Forget the Titans.
The UCSB baseball team returns to the comfy confines of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this weekend for a critical three-game series against Cal State Fullerton No. 15 team in the nation. The Titans are 24-12 on the season and sit solidly in second place in the Big West with a 7-2 conference record, while the Gauchos (16-21, 3-6) desperately need to get on track after dropping two out of three games in each of their first three series in conference play.
“This weekend is extremely important,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Six or seven losses will win the Big West, and we have six, so we can’t really afford anymore. If we take it one pitch at a time, we can get back in it. If we win two out of three we can stay afloat.”
To seriously challenge the Titans, Santa Barbara must get off to a quick start. The team has not won a series opener all season and Friday’s starter, sophomore Matt Vasquez, will have to kick-start the Gauchos.
“If we sweep, it’s huge,” Vasquez said. “We’ll be 6-6, and that’ll put Fullerton way back. After this, we play some of the easier teams in conference, and the guys ahead of us will beat up on each other. I have to go out there, throw strikes and give my team a chance to win.”
Despite maintaining a stellar ERA of 3.80, Vasquez has lost four straight starts. Vasquez will square up against Fullerton’s Wes Littleton, who is 7-2 with a 1.37 ERA.
“We’ve faced four or five of the best arms in conference,” Brontsema said. “And [Littleton] is probably the best of all of them.”
Vasquez and the other hurlers will also need some support from the UCSB batsmen. Junior left fielder Blair Havens has provided the offense with a major spark from the leadoff spot, leading the team with a .385 batting average.
“He’s definitely made a difference,” junior first baseman Josh McCanne said. “He’s a scrappy guy and he’s done a good job. He finds a way on base.”
However, despite the prolific numbers being put up by Havens, junior right fielder Ryan Spilborghs (.375-10 HR-45 RBI) and freshmen second baseman Chris Malec (.322-6-41) and designated hitter Matt Wilkerson (.283-10-31), Santa Barbara languishes in the clutch.
“We have to get some key hits,” Malec said. “We haven’t done that lately.”
If those elusive key hits come and the pitchers live up to expectations, the Gauchos can give Fullerton a run for its money and get back in the Big West race.
“This is going to make or break our chances to make regionals,” Malec said.
Friday’s first pitch is at 2 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday’s games both starting at 1 p.m.