Every skipper will live and die by the old adage: pitching and defense win ballgames.

UCSB baseball Head Coach Bob Brontsema can attest to that phrase after the Gauchos struggled to win the season’s first series because of inconsistent pitching and defensive lapses.

This past weekend’s series against San Diego State, the Gauchos dropped two of three games. While Santa Barbara’s offense struggled throughout the weekend, mustering only seven runs during the series, the performance of the pitchers and the guys behind the mound determined victory or defeat.

In a 2-1 season-opening Santa Barbara victory, Brontsema could not have asked for much more from his pitchers. Junior starter Matt Vasquez went six innings and allowed only one earned run on five hits. Junior southpaw setup-man Ivan Ramirez sent six up and six down in the seventh and eighth innings. Both hurlers helped keep UCSB in control.

“I was fired up the whole game,” Vasquez said. “I couldn’t sit down, I was so amped.”

The Gauchos also played solid defense when the game could have opened up, turning a spectacular 3-5-4 double play off of an attempted sacrifice bunt to get out of a jam in the third inning.

“We couldn’t have played much better, unless we scored a ton of runs,” Brontsema said.

Even the Aztecs’ coach was impressed.

“Santa Barbara looked polished,” SDSU Head Coach Tony Gwynn said.

However, the sheen came off as the weekend went on. Saturday, UCSB starter Sean Thompson was rocked, the defense committed four errors, and the offense mounted only two runs on four hits in a 10-2 shellacking. On Sunday, sophomore starter Eric Posthumus pitched outstanding, allowing only three runs in six and a third innings pitched. However, four of the six SDSU runs came from UCSB defensive mistakes. In addition, the Gauchos compiled only three runs on five hits.

“I think we executed for them,” Brontsema said of the 6-3 defeat. “We lost this game.”

Vasquez appeared to be the ace that the UCSB pitching staff expected to count on in 2003, and Posthumus looked equally as effective on Sunday. Ramirez was great out of the pen. DH Taylor Vogt, first baseman Josh McCanne and catcher Chad Ziemendorf have improved to the point that they could truly be forces at the plate. Chris Malec hit line drives all over the field, and judging by his .328 batting average his freshman campaign, those shots should start to drop.

However, things will not get easy any time soon. Santa Barbara will host USC on Tuesday. The Trojans, ranked sixth in the nation, return six position starters and eight pitchers from a team that won a Pac-10 crown last year.

“They’ve got a great pitching staff,” Brontsema said. “We’ll probably see a couple of their weekend guys out there.”

UCSB will hope that freshman Steve Morlock, who actually won the Sunday job over Posthumus before being pushed back with a minor injury, will be able to bag the Trojans in his first start at UCSB. First pitch will be at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium at 2 p.m.