The UCSB baseball team will try to get back to sea level this weekend against University of the Pacific.
The Gauchos will travel to Stockton for a three-game series against UOP at Billy Hebert Field. Santa Barbara will try to snap a seven-game losing streak in conference that has seen them plummet from second to last in the Big West. UCSB has lost nine of its last 10games overall, to fall to 17-29 for the season and 3-13 in conference.
The Tigers will also try to get their heads above water. Cal State Northridge swept Pacific last weekend, dropping UOP to 24-21-1 overall and just 5-10 in the conference. Despite their mutual slumps, this is a series that should see quite its share of offense.
“They’re a very offensive team,” UCSB head coach Bob Brontsema said of the Tigers. “They have one of the top offensive clubs in the conference. We just have to try to execute all the way across the board. We haven’t really done that, but we hope this weekend can be a start.”
Pacific’s offense is led by junior outfielder Tim Gilhooly, who has posted otherworldly numbers, including a .368 average, 10 home runs and a Big West-leading 61 RBIs. UCSB will be able to counter with some hot bats of its own, particularly those from outfielders Ryan Spilborghs and Matt Wilkerson.
Spilborghs, a junior, is sixth in the Big West with 13 dingers this season, and his 52 RBIs place him second only to Gilhooly. Meanwhile, Wilkerson has enjoyed a standout rookie season, blasting 15 homers to eclipse the Big West record for freshmen previously held by Phil Nevin.
“I hoped to have a good year,” Wilkerson said. “I started to flow and then got in a groove. I just have to keep getting good swings on the ball.”
Wilkerson has also knocked in 41 runs, joining Spilborghs and freshman second baseman Chris Malec (48 RBIs) in the top 10 in the league. These pillars of power will have to contend with a solid UOP pitching staff that is led by junior right-hander James Stanford, who is 8-2 with a 2.88 earned-run average, good for fourth in the Big West.
“They’ve got a couple of good lefties and a real good righty,” Brontsema said. “Stanford’s got some of the best numbers in the league.”
The Gauchos will try to combat Pacific’s pitching by shaking up their own struggling rotation, which is last in the Big West in ERA (6.46), opponents batting average (.314) and home runs allowed (52). Junior southpaw Sean Thompson (2-3, 6.00) will get his first Friday start of the season, while sophomore ace Matt Vasquez (4-7, 5.18) will be pushed back to Sunday. Freshman right-hander Eric Posthumus (4-1, 5.91) will try to bury the Tigers on Saturday.
“Thompson’s pitched the best, so we want him to go on Friday,” Brontsema said. “We haven’t won an opener all year, so we’d like to get off on the right foot. We want to win a series. We haven’t done that yet, and that’s always the goal.”
With some continued slugging and a little bit of pitching, the Gauchos should be able to de-claw the Tigers and get back on dry land.