This year, the most impressive hurlers on the UCSB campus shouldn’t be the barflies on Bill’s Bus.

In 2002, the UCSB baseball team struggled to a 22-33 record. The Gauchos’ pitching staff, statistically near the bottom of the Big West last season, will welcome several solid veterans and a much-needed injection of young talent to help gun down opposing batters in 2003.

“We’re really excited about this season,” UCSB Pitching Coach Dan Ricabal said. “We’ve got a good combination of experience and leadership with some young guys who are developing real quickly.”

Leading the way for the Gauchos’ pitching staff is #1 starter Matt Vasquez, a junior from Santa Barbara. The former freshman All-American struggled at times last year (5-10, 5.53 earned run average), yet has displayed enough talent to be much more than just a collegiate ace.

“Matt Vasquez has a whole different frame of mind this year,” Ricabal said. “Last year, he was searching for confidence and the killer instinct. We think he’s found it, and if so, he’ll get drafted real high.”

“I’m fired up about this year,” Vasquez said. “There’s pressure on me, but the whole team seems to be coming together as one unit much better than last year.”

The rest of the Gauchos’ starting staff should take some of the pressure off Vasquez.

Senior Sean Thompson, who was the team’s most dependable starter in the second half of the season (3-3, 4.68 in the Big West), will hold down the #2 spot in the rotation. The #3 slot is still being hotly contested between sophomore Eric Posthumus (6-1, 5.34), a freshman All-American last season, and promising freshman Steven Morlock. Either way, starting pitching certainly appears as if it will be a strength this season.

The bullpen is not nearly as settled.

“We’ve got seven or eight guys for about four spots,” Ricabal said. “It’s pretty tight.”

Leading the way in relief at this point is junior Jared Edrosolan, who boasted an impressive ERA of 3.27 before an arm injury caused him to miss the final three quarters of the season.

“He’s the leading candidate for closer right now,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “But no one’s guaranteed anything. He’s got to earn it.”

Another reliever who has looked promising in practice is junior college transfer Ivan Ramirez.

“He looks like he could get a lot of innings in a setup role,” Ricabal said. “We think he could be the kind of guy that pitches almost every day. He’s going to get the ball.”

After these two stoppers the Gauchos’ pen is full of question marks.

“We’re going to have to throw some freshmen and some inexperienced guys out there,” Brontsema said. “We’ve got a lot of good arms, but we’ll have to see how these guys handle the pressure of playing Division I. It’s a big question. Everything revolves around what your pitching staff does. If you pitch well, you win.”

If the veterans show leadership on the mound and the youngsters live up to their potential, winning may become a habit for the Gauchos.