The Gauchos (16-10) will ride a five-game winning streak into Los Angeles this afternoon to tangle with Loyola Marymount University (16-11-1, 7-2 in the West Coast Conference) in their final midweek game before conference play begins next week. The first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Page Stadium, a locale that has seen Santa Barbara win four of the last five games it has played there.
The Lions blasted the Gauchos for nine runs in the top of the first inning at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium four weeks ago and literally coasted to an 11-9 win as UCSB picked away at the lead but could not come up with enough runs in the end. LMU promptly lost five-straight games before righting the ship and winning a series against WCC foe Gonzaga last weekend to remain in first place in its conference by two and a half games.
LMU junior center fielder Joe Frazee batted .600 on the weekend with four runs scored and four batted in, but senior shortstop Billy Lockin stole the show by lining a two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning of Sunday’s rubber match to help the Lions edge Gonzaga 8-6. Lockin’s hit allowed LMU to get its wheels rolling for today’s game, and his eight steals and .426 on-base percentage are club highs.
Lockin, a leadoff hitter, had two hits, two runs and two RBIs in that fateful first inning against the Gauchos earlier this season, making the very first out in projected Gaucho sophomore starter Steve Morlock’s assignment an important one.
“We want to keep Lockin off the bases, because he’s a guy that makes them go,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said of the 5’9″ speedster.
With a team ERA of 5.57, Lions’ pitching does not seem that impressive, but they have a lot of quality arms that they use frequently, with five hurlers on the staff logging 11 appearances or more at this point in the season. LMU used four pitchers to record the final three outs against Gonzaga on Sunday, so today’s game will be taken seriously and it is likely that Lions Head Coach Frank Cruz will play the percentages with his pitching matchups.
“LMU is a regional-type team,” Brontsema said, speaking of the first round of the NCAA baseball postseason. “They need a non-conference win as much as anyone else, so they’re going to throw the best guys they have available.”
The Gauchos are in the right kind of mode to counter pitching strategies, having sent every position player to the batter’s box in their last series and hitting the tobacco juice out of the ball at a .397 clip over their last five games. Junior second baseman Chris Malec enjoyed the most productive Spring Break of all the UCSB players, hitting .611 and driving in 11 runs to boost his total to 32, well on pace to break his freshman record of 60 RBI and good for second most in the Big West. Junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson upped his season average to a respectable .265 and added 12 RBIs in last week’s games.
UCSB’s team batting average is up to .315 and each of their starting lineups, which differ depending on whether the opposing pitcher is right- or left-handed, features five .300 hitters.