For the seven seniors on the UCSB baseball team, saying goodbye to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this weekend may be just as difficult as saying the name Caesar Uyesaka.
Playing in their final home series of the season, the Gauchos (22-28 overall, 4-11 in the Big West) will try to send the seniors out on top, as they host Irvine for three games starting today.
“You would certainly think that they would have some emotion involved in the game,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Whether or not that will produce the outcome we want, it’s not clear.”
The Anteaters (28-22, 7-8) come to Santa Barbara in fifth place in the Big West. Irvine swept Davis last weekend before returning to conference play Tuesday with a loss to Pepperdine.
After a rough series against Riverside last weekend, the Gaucho starting rotation will be looking to finish off the season strong to cover the next two weeks.
Junior starter Michael Martin is 5-6 and leads the squad with 53 strikeouts and 92 innings pitched. Sunday’s sophomore starter Andy Graham will be looking to get back on the winning side in the game against Irvine after going winless in his last seven starts.
The Anteater offense will show up ready to spoil senior weekend for Santa Barbara. Juniors catcher Mark Wagner and first baseman Jaime Martinez have been major contributors to the Anteaters’ recent success. Last year, Irvine made its first appearance in the NCAA playoffs as a Division I team on the backs of Wagner and Martinez. This season, Wagner is batting .359 and has scored a team-high 34 runs while Martinez is tops on the team with 43 RBIs.
“[The Anteaters] don’t lack anything. They’ve brought the program back and gone after [the rest of the conference],” Brontsema said. “They’ve found a hotbed of baseball talent and they have one of the best facilities in Southern California so people want to play for them.”
UCSB will have to rely on the seven seniors’ experience to be successful this weekend. Senior right fielder Matt Wilkerson, a four-year starter for the Gauchos, continues to lead the team this season in both RBIs, with 44, and runs, with 39. Wilkerson is just one home run away from tying the Santa Barbara career record of 41.
Along with Wilkerson, the Gauchos will honor shortstop Chris Malec, pitchers Alex McRobbie and Loren Fraser, third baseman Dave Figoni, outfielder Matt Stevens and catcher Matt Kalafatis on Senior Day Sunday.
“It’s gonna be emotional,” Brontsema said. “It’s a stepping stone, though. It’s just the end of their college careers and hopefully some of these guys will get the chance to play professionally. For those who don’t play professionally, they’ve prepared themselves for the real world by getting a great education.”
Despite Wilkerson’s team-leading statistics, for the past two weeks, all eyes have been on Malec. The four-year starter played in the Gauchos’ last two series, returning to the field for the first time since surgery for testicular cancer in April. Yet Malec is not expected to see much — if any — time this weekend after undergoing his second cycle of chemotherapy treatment this week.
“He might be able to give us a couple innings here and there but it’s unlikely he’ll be able to do much,” Brontsema said. “We’d like to at least get him to play on Senior Day, but he’s not going to be able to do a lot for us this weekend.”
The series kicks off today, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The two teams finish the series with 1 p.m. start times Saturday and Sunday.