After two weeks of facing off against the nation’s top teams, UCSB baseball’s series this weekend at Riverside may seem like a vacation.
The Gauchos (21-26 overall, 3-9 in the Big West) have played seven of their last 10 games against ranked opponents, and last weekend they took two out of three from then-#10 Long Beach. The series win was Santa Barbara’s first over a conference opponent this season.
“[The wins against Long Beach are] just a mental pickup. We still have to go out and execute and play well. When you feel better about yourself and how you’re playing, that makes things easier,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We’re playing under the lights, which doesn’t happen very often so that’s part of the challenge. Ultimately we just have to execute.”
Riverside, on the other hand, is coming off of a weekend series that was shortened by rain. The Highlanders (21-23, 6-6 Big West) extended their losing streak to four last weekend, with two losses at Davis.
The UCSB series win over the Long Beach Dirtbags was highlighted by the return of senior shortstop Chris Malec to the lineup for the first time since undergoing surgery for testicular cancer. Malec’s return helped the Gauchos play their first error-free weekend since the season-opening series against Pepperdine. Malec is anticipated to start again at Riverside.
Santa Barbara will need its starting pitchers to shine again this weekend. Juniors Steve Morlock and Michael Martin put together two quality wins for the Gauchos, out-dueling Long Beach junior starters Cesar Ramos and Marco Estrada on consecutive days.
“We’re hoping for very much the same [from the starters],” Brontsema said. “Morlock threw very well in practice this week and he’s worked on mechanics. Martin’s pitched well much of the year and [sophomore starter Andy] Graham is coming off of a strong outing.”
Morlock, Martin and Graham will have to contest with the bats of three Highlander starters batting over .300. Sophomore catcher Nick Salotti leads the squad with his .361 average, while junior right fielder Aaron Grant’s 34 runs scored are tops on the team.
A successful weekend on the road in Riverside depends upon the Gaucho bats. Last weekend, the Santa Barbara offense heated up, blasting four home runs, scoring 18 runs and recording 23 hits against the best pitching staff in the nation.
Senior right fielder Matt Wilkerson leads the team in both runs and RBI with 38 and 43, respectively. With a .361 average, five doubles and 11 runs scored in Big West games, senior catcher Matt Kalafatis has been the spark in the Gaucho lineup lately. Against the Dirtbags, Kalafatis batted .400 with one home run and two RBI.