If the Gauchos have to venture off their home field, at least they will be on the familiar terrain of a beach.

The UCSB baseball team will travel to Malibu for Pepperdine’s first Battle at the Beach tournament this weekend. Santa Barbara will face Houston, Washington and Pepperdine, three teams expected to be national contenders. The 1-3 Gauchos may have a slight edge: Every other team in the tournament will open their seasons today.

Nevertheless, the competition appears formidable.

“Most people would consider us the underdogs in this tournament,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We’ve got to go out, play a clean game defensively and keep pitching the way we have been.”

Santa Barbara opens the tournament today at 10:30 a.m. against #11 Houston (48-17 last season). UCSB will send junior right-hander Matt Vasquez (1-0, 1.50 ERA) to the hill. Vasquez will face stiff competition from the Cougars’ sophomore pitcher Brad Sullivan, who posted a 13-1 record with an eye-popping 1.82 ERA in 2002. Sullivan led the nation in strikeouts.

“We’re going to face one of the top pitchers in the country,” UCSB Pitching Coach Dan Ricabal said. “We’re matching up our best guy against their best guy.”

The road remains treacherous after Houston. On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., the Gauchos will start senior Sean Thompson against Washington. The Huskies are coming off of a year in which they went 33-27 and went to an NCAA regional. Thompson, who struggled in his first start of the season, allowing six runs in two and one third innings against San Diego State, will have to be on top of his game.

“Washington didn’t have the record Houston did, but they play in a tough conference [the Pac-10] and they went to regionals,” Brontsema said. “We’re hoping Thompson’s mechanical problems are straightened out and we’ll see the real Sean Thompson this weekend.”

After all of this, on Sunday at 2 p.m., Santa Barbara will host Pepperdine, favorites to win the West Coast Conference this year. UCSB will start sophomore Eric Posthumus, who was outstanding in his first start of the season last weekend, despite getting tabbed for a 6-3 loss to SDSU.

“It’s pretty tough to find complaints with how we’ve pitched,” Brontsema said. “We haven’t helped them out either offensively or defensively. It’s a matter of pressing. We’re going to have to have one of those games when we breakout and get 14 or 15 hits. It’s a confidence thing.”