Since their midseason eight-game losing streak and their elimination from playoff contention, the Gauchos have been claiming that they are simply playing for pride.
As recently as two weeks ago, several players have been quoted making the same remarks, even as their team was buried in the cellar of the Big West Conference. Now with just one three-game weekend series remaining in 2003, UCSB has climbed its way up to sixth place and is in position to make the jump to fourth.
“Our guys have not quit all year,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “They’ve tried to stand up to every obstacle we’ve faced. They’ve stayed together for the whole time and I’m very proud of them.”
A sweep of Cal Poly this weekend coupled with two UC Irvine losses would propel the Gauchos into sole possession of fourth place. The three teams that would be ahead of the Gauchos – Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside – are currently ranked by Baseball America as the #3, #4 and #22 teams in nation, respectively.
“We went through a stretch where we didn’t know if we were ever going to win again,” Brontsema said. “To finish in fourth would be pretty good.”
The Gauchos (23-27, 6-12 in the Big West) would do more than maintain their pride with a sweep this weekend; they would also finish the season just one game under .500 – a huge leap from last year’s squad that finished 22-33.
Santa Barbara has won four of its last seven games and has taken two consecutive series from Cal State Northridge and University of the Pacific. The task will not be any easier for UCSB as the Mustangs trample into Caesar Uyesaka Stadium today at 2 p.m.
Cal Poly (26-23-1, 8-10) has also won four of its last seven and is currently tied for fourth place in the conference with Irvine. Offensively, the Mustangs are led by sophomore Billy Saul. The left-handed hitting outfielder is batting .351 with two home runs and 30 RBIs.
The Gauchos boast senior shortstop Josh Fulton, junior third baseman Nate Sutton and senior catcher Nic Rodriguez, all hitting over .300. Junior catcher Chad Ziemendorf, who has been on an offensive tear, leads the team with six home runs.
Taking the hill for Santa Barbara in today’s series opener will be junior Matt Vasquez (4-4). The right-hander has won his last two starts and has lasted at least 7.2 innings in his last three outings. He will be opposed by Mustang senior left-hander Josh Kougl (1-8, 5.42 ERA).
On Saturday, junior right-hander Rich Sorenson (2-0) will take the ball for UCSB. He will be making just his second start of the year after compiling a 6.10 ERA in 13 appearances. Freshman Garrett Olson (5-2, 4.09 ERA) will start for Cal Poly.
In the series and season finale on Sunday, senior Sean Thompson (5-6) will make his final collegiate start. It will be the southpaw’s team-leading 17th start of the year and his 26th as a Gaucho since transferring from El Camino College. Cal Poly senior Tyler Fitch is battling a groin pull and is questionable for his scheduled start.
Saturday’s and Sunday’s games both start at 1 p.m.