In a time of uncertainty, a familiar opponent may be exactly the thing the UCSB baseball team needs. On the other hand, that opponent is nationally ranked USC.
In their second meeting with USC in a week, the Gauchos (19-18 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) will travel to Dedeaux Field for their final nonconference game of the season.
The #22 Trojans (22-10 overall, 6-3 Pac-10) have moved up one spot in the Sports Weekly/ESPN Coaches’ Poll despite being idle since their 9-8 loss last week at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. In that same week’s span, Santa Barbara has lost three shortstops to injury and its middle infield will have a new look for the first time today.
“We go out to every game the same way. The only things that change are how you use your bullpen and how you pitch,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “This will be the first game with our new infield, but that’s our best option right now.”
Senior utility player Matt Stevens, who has mostly seen time in the outfield throughout his career, will start at second base for the Gauchos, while freshman second baseman Alden Carrithers will man the shortstop position. Stevens has batted .172 with eight runs in 14 starts and 29 games this season, getting his first reps at second base in the ninth inning of Sunday’s win over UCLA.
UCSB earned its first series win since March 26 with two wins against the Bruins last weekend. In the three games the Gauchos batted a combined .262, scoring 22 runs over three games, nine of which came on the road at UCLA on Friday. Santa Barbara’s offensive woes away from Caesar Uyesaka Stadium could work against them at USC tonight. In 10 road losses, the Gauchos have only managed to score four or more runs three times.
“We just need to just execute. We’re going to need to get our runs in,” junior first baseman Bill Rowe said. “With a lot of our guys missing we’re going to need everyone to step up.”
One player who has remained healthy is freshman designated hitter Matt Aidem, who leads the team with a .378 batting average after going 3-10 with three RBIs against the Bruins. With 30 runs and 36 RBIs, senior right fielder Matt Wilkerson is tops on the team in both categories.
Senior right-hander Loren Fraser will make the start for the second straight week. Fraser earned his third win of the season after allowing three runs on four hits in four innings against USC last Wednesday. The win was the Gauchos’ first against a ranked team this season.
“I think [a second win] would be another positive thing,” Brontsema said. “It’s tough to go five shortstops deep, we’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel but we understand that every game is going to be a dogfight.”
The Gaucho bullpen should eat up innings again tonight. Despite a few shaky innings over the past week, senior closer Alex McRobbie is just one save away from tying both the UCSB single-season and career saves records, with nine this season and 13 in his career.
First pitch in Los Angeles is scheduled for 5 tonight at USC’s Dedeaux Field.