The UCSB baseball team looks to win its first series in conference play this weekend when the Gauchos head to Stockton to take on Pacific.
Santa Barbara (14-15 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) struggled offensively in the two losses to UC Riverside last weekend and will face a Tiger pitching staff that is one of the conference’s best.
“From all indications, they throw lots of strikes and challenge hitters,” Pitching Coach Tom Myers said.
Pacific (19-12, 1-2 Big West) has the third lowest team ERA in the Big West, but an offense that is next to last in runs scored. Headlining their weekend rotation is senior pitcher Luke Massetti, who has four wins on the year and an ERA under 4.00.
The Tiger offense is lead by senior outfielder Matt Berezay, who is seventh in the conference with a .351 batting average. Pacific lost two of three to Cal Poly to open Big West action, and the Tigers took two of the three showdowns against the Gauchos last season.
“We just have to command the strike zone and use leverage when we get ahead in the count,” Myers said. “We pitched from behind a lot last weekend.”
After the offensive explosion the Santa Barbara displayed to close out March and kick off April, the Gaucho bats quieted down in last weekend’s series against Riverside. UCSB could only muster four hits in the series finale, which was good for one run and a loss in the rubber match.
“Going into Saturday, we knew if we got pitching like [junior pitcher Andy] Graham’s performance, we’d have the momentum, but we ran into trouble in the fourth inning,” Myers said. “There was great pitching by UCR on Sunday.”
Still pacing the Santa Barbara offense are sophomore second basemen Alden Carrithers and junior shortstop Chris Valaika, ranking first and third, respectively, in batting average in the Big West. The pair struggled against the Highlanders, going a combined 3-19.
“Alden possesses a tough strike zone because of his small stature,” Myers said. “Chris has power to all fields. [Freshman outfield Brian] Gump is perhaps our best skills player as far as getting bunts down. Our offensive approach has improved each game.”
The next eight games for UCSB are all on the road, where the Gauchos have posted a 5-9 record thus far. The squad has fared better away from the beach of late, winning their last four road games after dropping nine of their first 10.
Santa Barbara will look to pick up some wins against a team that is expected to finish near the bottom of the conference standings. Pacific just edged out UCSB for sixth place in the Big West last season.
“I think this is a big weekend,” Myers said. “We’ll learn a lot about our club over the next two weeks. It’s always nice to win a series on the road.”
The first pitch of the series is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Stockton Ballpark.