Home field advantage doesn’t mean everything, but it does mean something, especially when two teams meet for a one-game series. The Northridge Matadors (13-21, 0-3 in the Big West) can attest to that, and they will have a tough assignment when they visit Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this afternoon at 2 p.m. to spar with the Gauchos (21-12, 1-2 in the Big West) in a nonconference game.
Northridge is coming off of an embarrassing homestand that that saw three straight losses to defending Big West champion Long Beach State by scores of 15-4, 17-3 and 13-1.
CSUN sophomore first baseman Michael Paulk and junior right fielder John Voita are one-two in the Big West in home runs, with eight and seven, respectively. Their home, Matador Field, is a blustery crackerbox of a ballpark, and the team is 6-13 away from it. Paulk and Voita both launched homers against UCSB on Feb. 10 with the wind blowing out to right field ferociously, but the Gauchos recovered to win it the game 10-7.
Voita and Paulk, who account for a third of the Matadors’ RBIs and bat a combined .338, signify the end of the Matador offensive output, leaving the rest of the team behind at an anemic .259. The defense has not fared much better, making nine miscues last weekend and committing an average of over two errors per game, the highest ratio in the league. Santa Barbara, on the other hand, carries the Big West’s best leather with a sparkling .977 fielding percentage.
CSUN’s woes are compounded by its conference-worst staff ERA of 6.20. Through 34 games, only two hurlers, senior Nathan Hochgesang and freshman Craig Baker, have pitched more than 35 innings. Northridge Head Coach Steve Rousey sent out eight different pitchers in last month’s Matador-Gaucho clash. The Gauchos stormed from behind with eight runs in the eighth inning of the game, thanks to five walks, a hit batsman, an error and three very timely hits.
Santa Barbara received a lot of help from its opponents during its recent nine-game winning streak, snapped at Irvine last Thursday. UCSB drew an average of nearly eight walks per game during the streak and is 11-3 on the season in games in which they are granted more than five free passes. Irvine hurlers only walked two each in the Anteaters’ two series wins, but UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema insists that walks are not a necessary element in Gaucho success.
“We don’t need [walks]; we only got four from Irvine on Saturday and racked up 15 hits,” Brontsema said. “We need to swing the bats to score runs.”
UCSB senior third baseman Nate Sutton has led the way in the scoring department by touching home 47 times, swiping 21 bases and reaching base at a .442 clip. Junior second baseman Chris Malec has been the team’s RBI man, placing second in the Big West with 39.
Gaucho junior right-hander Loren Fraser (3-1, 2.39 ERA) is slated to make his second start of the season, and Santa Barbara expects to use freshman righty Brian Tracy (1-1, 7.20 ERA) in relief. Northridge is projected to send freshman Scott Sistilli (7.07 ERA in 14 IP) to the mound. Sistilli tossed two innings against UCSB two months ago in a 10-7 Gaucho win.