Though their minds may not be on the games at hand, the Gauchos still have a series to play. Minus senior shortstop Chris Malec, Santa Barbara baseball will take on UCLA this weekend.
Despite their history as a Pac-10 powerhouse team and their trip to NCAA Regionals last year, the Bruins (7-22 overall, 0-6 in the Pac-10) have gotten off to a rough start this season.
For the Gauchos (17-17, 1-2 in the Big West), the next three games present a number of opportunities. Santa Barbara can regain a winning record as well as prove itself without Malec, a four-year starter and All-Big West selection last season who underwent surgery for testicular cancer Thursday morning.
“We only have one backup infielder per se [junior Travis LeBouf], so right now, it’s going to be [LeBouf],” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “If something else happens, we’ll have to figure it out. We’re going to have to be creative maybe from here on out. We definitely have to stay healthy.”
The series should prove to be competitive; both teams were swept last weekend while only managing to score one run apiece in the losses. However, UCSB is coming off its first win over a nationally ranked team this season after a 9-8 win Wednesday over #23 USC.
With two of the three games this weekend to be played at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, the Gauchos look to have the upper hand. UCSB holds a superior 12-7 record at home, while the Bruins come to Santa Barbara with a dismal 3-11 on the road.
UCLA will face the Gauchos’ regular weekend rotation starting with junior right-hander Michael Martin in tonight’s series opener. Sophomore Andy Graham and junior Steve Morlock are expected to start the Saturday and Sunday games.
Without Malec, improvisation in the lineup will be key for the Gauchos. In replacing Malec, LeBouf and his teammates will be asked to reconcile a .336 average, 30 runs and 19 RBI. Santa Barbara can look to its recently reignited bats to help fill the void. Senior right fielder Matt Wilkerson leads the team with 33 RBI, while junior center fielder Matt Emerick has the hot bat after going 3-4 with two RBI against USC.
“We don’t have the luxury of having his bat in the lineup for right now,” Wilkerson said. “I think we definitely need everyone else one through nine to step it up a little bit more.”
The bullpen continues to be a point of pride for the Gauchos. Sophomore reliever Justin Segal extended his scoreless streak to 11.2 innings with three innings of one-hit baseball against USC Wednesday.
The teams will face off tonight at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. The final two games of the series will be played in Santa Barbara at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Both games are scheduled to start at 1 p.m.