Hot on the heels of a seven-game winning streak and with renewed energy, the Gauchos (30-17, 8-7 in the Big West) will host Pepperdine (23-25, 17-7 in the West Coast Conference) in nonconference action for their final regular season home game this afternoon at 2.
Santa Barbara has the best road record in the Big West at 14-6, and is a cooler 16-11 within the breezy confines of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The team has made some changes, though, in order to liven up the atmosphere in the dugout and keep the players on their toes and in the game at all times.
“We tried to figure out a way to be as up at home as we are on the road, so we took the chairs out of the dugout,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We’re always up; nobody’s sitting down. We’re just trying something.”
The experiment has worked so far, as nary a Gaucho is seen on a bucket or slumped against the bench when the ball is in play. The dugout energy helped key three gigantic early leads in Santa Barbara’s sweep of Cal State Northridge last weekend, and UCSB’s comments are sure to make waves when Pepperdine visits today.
“We’re getting excited over the right things, like leadoff walks, two-out hits, and even doses (hit batsmen),” UCSB Pitching Coach Dan Ricabal said. “We’re making smart, intelligent, motivating baseball comments, and when guys are having fun in the dugout, there’s no reason to think that we can’t get it done.”
The Gauchos have gotten it done in conference with consecutive sweeps of then-#4 Long Beach State and Northridge to vault themselves into a fourth place tie in the Big West, just one game behind third-place UC Riverside. Different players have risen to the occasion in every game; freshman pitcher Andy Graham is the lone hurler with two wins during the streak, and junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson is the only position player to lead the club in RBIs more than once.
The Waves have locked up at least a share of the WCC West Division title, but their season is far from over. Their 23-25 record will not exactly earn them pole position in the postseason, and a victory over the torrid Gauchos will only improve their seeding. Santa Barbara, on the other hand, can almost certainly count on a playoff berth if it wins out.
“They need as many nonconference wins as they can get,” Brontsema said. “All we have to do is keep winning, and if we can do that, I like our chances. Ultimately, though, we have to win our league games.”
Pepperdine is paced by freshman left fielder Luke Salas’ .366 batting average, and senior first baseman Brent Lewis hit .500 last weekend to earn WCC Player of the Week honors. Waves senior right-handed pitcher Brandon Boesch (3-5, 5.79 ERA) was a weekend starter for much of the season and will oppose Gaucho freshman Brian Tracy (1-1, 6.75 ERA) this afternoon, so the Waves are serious about taking this game.
To do it, they’ll need to overcome the new attitude on the Gaucho club and the momentum of seven straight wins.