With eight consecutive losses and back-to-back weekend sweeps fresh on the résumé, the UCSB baseball team knows its season is not about to get any easier.
The Gauchos (18-21, 1-8 in the Big West) square off against the University of Southern California at 5 p.m. today in Los Angeles in the second nonconference matchup between the schools this year.
In the Feb. 4 game at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, USC (20-19, 6-6 in the Pac-10) defeated freshman right-hander Steve Morlock for the 5-2 victory. The game was USC’s first of the season. UCSB sophomore right fielder Matt Wilkerson does not expect to see a similar performance from the Trojans this time.
“I think we’re going to be looking at a different team – a little bit more settled down than they were before,” he said.
Originally projected to win the Pac-10 Conference, the Trojans have not enjoyed as successful a year as Head Coach Mike Gillespie anticipated. Yet USC is still a force to be reckoned with, according to UCSB Pitching Coach Dan Ricabal.
“SC is a good team and we’re going to try to throw our best guy,” Ricabal said.
Santa Barbara senior left-hander Sean Thompson (5-4) will be on the hill today in an attempt to send Southern California to its third straight loss. The Trojans lost two of their last three games to California over the weekend.
Thompson pitched last Thursday in the Gauchos’ series opener against then #2 Cal State Fullerton. The Titans moved to the #1 spot after sweeping UCSB over the weekend. Against CSUF, Thompson pitched a strong seven and two-thirds innings despite picking up the loss. The southpaw struck out eight while giving up nine hits. He has lowered his season ERA to 4.78.
“We have a lot of confidence when Thompson is pitching,” Wilkerson said.
However confidence is exactly what UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema believes his team is missing right now.
“A lot of this game is mental,” he said. “That’s an important part of our game now because I think mentally we’re struggling as much as anything.”
The Gauchos will face a USC squad that has five of its nine starters batting over .300, led by senior shortstop Anthony Lunetta’s .338 average. Freshman catcher Jeff Clement bats .329 while slugging 17 home runs.
Third baseman Nate Sutton has remained UCSB’s hottest hitter. The junior has raised his average to .342 and has driven in 19 RBI, third most on the team.
The Gauchos are still excited about playing hard for the rest of their season, regardless of their current record.
“Right now we’re playing for pride,” Wilkerson said. We’ve got to go out and show what we can do and show we belong in this tough conference. There are a lot of upsets going on and we’re looking forward to playing the spoiler role.”