There’s nothing like the possibility of a last-place finish to motivate a team. For UCSB baseball, the final series of the weekend presents just that type of challenge.

The Gauchos (23-30 overall, 5-13 in the Big West) travel to Northridge for their last series of the 2005 season this weekend. With just a three-game lead over the bottom-dwelling Matadors (18-33, 2-16), Santa Barbara must win one game to secure seventh place in the conference.

“We’re going in there looking for the sweep. We want to win all three games and that’s not a lot to ask,” junior first baseman Bill Rowe said. “We’ve won there before and swept Northridge before. I think we’re pretty confident playing on their field and if we play a solid game we can come out on top.”

Although Northridge has lost four straight and eight of its last 10 games, the team’s offense is not to blame. The Matadors have scored 29 runs over their past five games and boast a .284 team batting average, fourth best in the conference.

“We have to play well. When we were down in Riverside everyone kept telling me that Northridge is a lot better than their record indicates,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We can’t go down there thinking it’s going to be a walk in the park.”

UCSB is coming off of a 2-1 series loss to Irvine last weekend. The Gauchos haven’t won a series in three weeks, when they took two out of three from #11 Long Beach. They have, however, won six straight games against the Matadors. With a record of 54-51-3 against Northridge, the Gauchos hold a slight advantage.

Santa Barbara pitching and defense will be key in the games against the Matadors this weekend. After committing 10 errors, which resulted in seven unearned runs against Irvine, the Gauchos cannot afford to be sloppy on defense.

“It will be really important to play well defensively because Northridge is notorious for having a not well-kept field with lots of bad hops,” Rowe said. “We just have to focus on getting in front of the ball.”

The seniors will don the Gaucho uniform for the final time this weekend. Seniors right fielder Matt Wilkerson and shortstop Chris Malec, both four-year starters, will look to lead the offense against Northridge.

Wilkerson has racked up a team-leading 12 home runs and is just one shy of breaking the UCSB career record, while Malec hit .429 against the Anteaters last weekend.

“[The seniors] have all brought a lot individually to the program. They’ve been great students. They’re all going to graduate if not already, then this quarter or the next,” Brontsema said. “They’ve brought great work ethic. Individually they each brought something different in terms of baseball. We’ll definitely miss them.”

Santa Barbara’s senior flame-throwing duo of Loren Fraser and Alex McRobbie has provided the most consistent pitching out of the bullpen all season. Fraser and McRobbie have combined to eat up 96 innings, strike out 81 batters this year and should play a key role this weekend at Northridge.

The three-game set begins today, with first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m. at Matador Field.