For anyone but the stars, this part of the college baseball season is about nailing down a starting role or earning playing time for the conference schedule. This weekend’s baseball series between the Gauchos (6-4 overall) and the Fresno State Bulldogs (5-7) should prove to be critical for the guys on the bubble.
Santa Barbara has not won a series since the season opener at San Diego State, and one huge factor is the hole in the pitching rotation between sophomore right-hander Steve Morlock on Friday and sophomore hurler Michael Martin on Sunday. Junior transfer pitcher Nate Holguin earned the call to start Saturday with a scintillating three-inning performance at Pepperdine on Monday.
“Nate was a potential weekend guy going into the season, and he’ll have to pitch well,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “He [brought] a certain mentality out of the bullpen, and because of that, he might find his way back there.
Holguin has pitched much better than his 6.35 ERA indicates, playing a crucial role with relief appearances in the Gauchos’ wins at San Diego State, Northridge and Pepperdine. He has contributed five innings of work to UCSB’s winning causes, giving up two inconsequential runs along the way.
FSU plans to start right-hander Michael Cooper and left-hander David Griffin on Friday and Saturday, respectively, but will hand the ball to up-and-coming freshman southpaw Brandon Miller for Sunday’s contest. Miller looks to make his second collegiate start after impressing in three scoreless relief roles. In his lone start against Cal last Sunday, he went five innings and limited the Bears to one run.
Miller will oppose Martin, who allows opposing players to hit safely at a clip of only .197 and has bagged wins in each of his three starts. All told, the Gaucho pitching staff has a respectable 4.85 ERA, a sparkling mark considering several huge innings it has allowed.
The Bulldogs’ .281 team average and 104 whiffs in 12 games reveals that they will surely come up hacking against the Gauchos, who have a knack for getting ahead in the count. Former Santa Barbara City College star and Santa Barbara Forester Richie Robnett leads this free-swinging club with a sizzling .367 batting average and 12 runs scored. The FSU sophomore outfielder also has two home runs, 10 RBIs and a team-leading three stolen bases to his name.
“We’re going to do the same thing to [Robnett] that we’ll do to everyone else, which is keep them off-balance,” Brontsema said. “They’re an aggressive, fastball-hitting club, and we need to throw our breaking pitches for strikes, something we’ve been so-so at this season.”
Today’s first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 2 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium following a moment of silence in memory of Eric Pintard, a local baseball hero who twice battled cancer and helped start the Hugs for Cubs program with the Foresters.
Saturday’s and Sunday’s games will begin at 1 p.m., with Sunday’s game broadcast live on KCSB-FM 91.9. This will be the Gauchos’ last home series until Loyola Marymount comes to town March 9.