On the heels of a four-hour marathon loss, the UCSB baseball team (8-6) heads for its only out-of-state series of 2004.
The Gauchos travel to Albuquerque, N.M. for a three-game series against the University of New Mexico (1-7-1). Santa Barbara’s hot bats should do a lot of talking this weekend as the Lobos have dropped four straight games and are winless at Isotopes Park, while UCSB has won four of five on the road.
UNM doesn’t look good on paper with a team batting average of .243 and an average of less than four runs a game. The Lobos have found a bright spot in leadoff hitter and center fielder Matt Young, who is enjoying another productive season, his third with New Mexico. Young started the season with an on-base percentage of .447 and leads the Lobos with 10 runs scored. Young has also driven in five runs and is hands-down the most offensively productive Lobo, with three doubles, two triples and a pair of stolen bases, all team highs.
The rest of the UNM lineup leaves much to be desired, with just 11 walks and only three regulars hitting over .300. UNM’s team ERA of 6.07 would make a batting practice pitcher proud, but in real competition, it has allowed for three 10-run spankings and four late-inning bullpen collapses. Seven of the Lobos’ first nine games have come against teams recognized by national baseball polls, however, and UNM has managed to earn the last two Mountain West Conference Player of the Week awards.
New Mexico junior right-hander Jason Fernandez copped the honors this week by making quick work of Arkansas last Friday in a 3-1 pitchers’ duel to secure the Lobos’ only win. Fernandez operates as the senior member of a pitching staff that features six underclassmen, leading the way with 12 innings of work and a shining 2.25 ERA. Fernandez will square off against Gaucho sophomore Steve Morlock (1-3, 5.56 ERA) in tonight’s opening game.
Horrid UNM defense (16 errors in nine games) has accounted for an average of two unearned runs per game, and the Gauchos have thrived in situations where their opponents have helped them out with errors, walks and hit batsmen.
“When we’ve been successful, we’ve capitalized on [opposing teams’ help] well. But when we’re not successful, we haven’t,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We’d like to leave this weekend having improved on our consistency.”
UCSB’s eight-hit performance in Tuesday’s 12-inning game can be attributed to UCLA’s amazing defense, which stole hit after hit from the Gauchos. In the previous series against Fresno State, Santa Barbara averaged nearly 12 runs and 15 hits, and the Gauchos feature six regulars that have touched home more than 10 times. Senior designated hitter Greg Powers is hitting .436 with 12 runs batted in, and sophomore first baseman Bill Rowe and junior second baseman Chris Malec have started hot and knocked in 15 runs each.
The UCSB bullpen is 3-1 with an ERA under 3.00, with junior long reliever Nate Holguin and senior southpaw Ivan Ramirez leading the charge. Holguin has gobbled up the most innings out of the pen while Ramirez has made the most appearances.
“Our bullpen has been one of the strengths of our pitching,” Brontsema said. “We’d like to get a better start out of a starting pitcher, but if we give up two in the first inning and then hold them from there, I’d be fine with that.”
Morlock will attempt to return to winning form tonight at 6, and sophomore right-hander Michael Martin (4-0, 2.08 ERA) will try to log UCSB’s first Saturday win in the second game of the three-game set starting at 1 p.m. Redshirt freshman hurler Andy Graham will start Sunday’s contest, also at 1 p.m. Graham features the club’s best strikeout-to-walk ratio with eight whiffs and only two bases on balls.