The Highlanders better hold onto their heads, because they don’t have Sean Connery to protect them from the Gauchos.
The UCSB baseball team will host Riverside this weekend in a three-game series at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The Gauchos will hope to vault over the Highlanders, who are one game ahead of UCSB in Big West Conference standings. Santa Barbara is looking to forget the Jekyll and Hyde performances that have plagued the team this season so they can finish strong in their final four conference series.
“We’re starting over at 0-0,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “This is a 12-game season now. Everything is behind us except what we’ve learned.”
One of the things the Gauchos (17-26 overall, 3-9 in the Big West) have learned that they would probably like to forget is that their pitching is not nearly as strong as it was expected to be. Despite a solid, and sometimes spectacular, season from sophomore pitcher Matt Vasquez (4-6, 4.44), the team has posted a woeful earned run average of 6.45, placing them last in the Big West. This is due in large part to injuries to starters senior pitcher James Garcia and junior pitcher James Dayley.
“Our Friday and Saturday guys haven’t really been healthy all year,” Brontsema said, “but we still feel like we’re throwing good guys out there.”
The staff will have to prove it deserves Brontsema’s confidence this weekend, as Riverside will trot out two starters, Chris Smith (7-6, 3.05) and Austin Shappi (5-3, 3.64), who are in the top 10 in the conference in ERA. The Highlanders (24-21, 4-8) support their hurlers with an extremely aggressive running game that has netted them a conference-leading 87 stolen bases.
“They have good team speed,” Brontsema said. “They have four guys who can run and that’s something we’ve struggled with. The key is to keep them off the bases.”
Santa Barbara will counter Riverside’s small-ball attack with the mashing long-ball assault that the team has made its trademark. The Gauchos have scored 27 runs in their last two home games, an offensive barrage that has been headed by freshman infielder Matt Wilkerson, who set a team freshman record with his 14 home runs this season.
Wilkerson has been supported, as always, by freshman second baseman Chris Malec (.324, 7 HR, 48 RBIs) and junior right fielder Ryan Spilborghs (.360, 12, 50), who is in the top 10 in the Big West in basically every major offensive category.
“Hopefully we can keep it going,” Malec said. “We’ve just got to keep moving runners over and making good outs.”
First pitch will be Friday at 2 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday’s games both getting under way at 1 p.m.