UCSB baseball Head Coach Bob Brontsema knew he had a talented group of players this season, returning three freshman All-American and four All-Big West selections.

But as the 2003 season wears on, the Gauchos look toward a player who just fell into the third base spot a year ago to be one of the team’s leading offensive producers.

Right-handed hitting junior Nate Sutton has emerged as one of UCSB’s most effective and reliable ballplayers.

“He’s been one of the most consistent offensive players around over the last month and a half,” Brontsema said.

Sutton’s selfless attitude has led him to a .351 batting average, three home runs and 15 RBI in 33 games.

“I’m really competitive no matter what I do,” Sutton said. “I don’t care what I do as long as we win.”

That’s the type of attitude that has led the Santa Cruz, Calif. native throughout his baseball career. Sutton twice received All-West Catholic Athletic League honors, and won a Central Coast Section Championship while playing at Bellarmine Prep High School in San Jose. But the Gauchos almost missed out on picking up the soft-spoken third baseman.

“I kind of ended up [in Santa Barbara] by mistake,” he said. “I was actually planning on going to Cal [Berkeley] but they ended up not giving me the offer that they had been promising me the entire time.”

That was when Sutton talked to former Gaucho Assistant Coach Tom Myers, who immediately offered the six-foot junior a scholarship, without knowing that San Jose State had already made a similar offer. The decision was an easy one for Sutton.

“I’m extremely happy with the choice,” he said. “[Santa Barbara] is better than San Jose State could have ever been.”

The result benefited Sutton’s teammates on and off the field.

“We mesh off the field and when we get on the field we’re like brothers,” senior Gaucho shortstop Josh Fulton said. “If he makes a mistake or I make a mistake out there, in order to help keep it off our minds, we make fun of each other. We’re always trying to pick each other up.”

Sutton moved to third base for the start of last season and batted .272 with 41 runs scored and 27 RBI.

He said he believes 2003 could be the time that the Gauchos return to the form of previous years.

“I believe that we’re going to make a run at this thing,” Sutton said. “You could compare this team to the 2001 team. I even think we have better pitching and better defense.”

As far as being sandwiched between guys like sophomore second baseman Chris Malec and sophomore right fielder Matt Wilkerson, who have both been showered with accolades after impressive freshman campaigns, Sutton doesn’t mind.

“It’s fine with me,” he said. “I hope other teams don’t look at me like a good player so they pitch to me. It helps me out if there is less publicity.”