After a mistake-laden opening series over the weekend, the UCSB baseball team looks to get back on track as USC makes a midweek stop in Santa Barbara today.
The Trojans (4-3 overall) visit Caesar Uyesaka Stadium coming off a weekend sweep of Florida International. Big West powerhouse Long Beach State swept USC to open the season. USC is lead by junior outfielder Cyle Hankerd who has knocked in 12 runs on the year thus far, and is hitting a robust .500.
“They are ranked pretty high this year and they will come after us with their pitching,” UCSB junior shortstop Chris Valaika said. “We hit well all weekend and we’ll be prepared.”
The teams played each other twice last season, with each squad winning at home.
The Santa Barbara defense has been shaky, allowing 10 unearned runs over the weekend. The free bases continued with six hit batsmen and more than five walks per game. Freshman third baseman Shane Carlson and sophomore second baseman Alden Carrithers each committed three errors over the weekend, while junior first basemen Robbie Blauer muffed two plays.
“We are a good defensive team, we just had a freak weekend,” Valaika said. “We got the jitters out of our system and we should settle down.”
Senior pitcher Steve Morlock was scheduled to face San Jose State on Saturday, but his season debut has been pushed back due to a finger injury. Morlock lead the Gauchos in wins a season ago.
“We’re watching Steve closely and measuring him day by day,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We don’t have any games next weekend, so hopefully he can get healthy soon.”
The Gaucho offense has been paced as expected by Valaika, who leads the team with a .471 average and six RBIs. Junior college transfers Blauer and junior outfielder Mario Lewis have been impressive, with Blauer hitting at a .438 clip while Lewis turned in a four-hit performance in the finale against San Jose State.
“[Blauer and Lewis] have been a great addition to our lineup,” Valaika said. “Mario had a great weekend and Robbie is always a tough out, even when he isn’t hitting well. They’re great guys to have hit around me and their presence lets me see better pitches.”
The Santa Barbara pitching staff has been solid as opponents are hitting just above .200 against the Gauchos. Freshman pitcher Clayton Edwards earned his first career save in Saturday’s win and the staff has a combined earned run average of 3.00.
“It was good for Edwards to go out and get his first save,” Valaika said. “He has a killer instinct mentality and he made some good pitches.”
The first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.