The Gauchos (15-18 overall, 2-4 in the Big West) begin the second half of their eight-game road stint today, as they travel to Irvine to face off with the Anteaters. Santa Barbara has dropped the opening two series of conference play and is coming off a lopsided 8-1 loss to Pepperdine, a game in which the UCSB defense committed five errors.
“[We need to] come out with an aggressive, confident approach from the offensive and defensive end,” Pitching Coach Tom Myers said. “We need at attitude that we can go in there and win.”
The Anteaters (22-16, 3-6 Big West) have won three straight contests, most recently shutting out #22 USC 5-0, a team the Gauchos knocked off 9-2 two weeks ago. Irvine dropped Big West series to Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton before taking two of three from Cal Poly last weekend.
Freshman pitcher Scott Gorgen leads an Irvine staff that boasts an ERA of 3.56 overall, the third lowest in the conference. Gorgen will get the call on Saturday and owns a 5-2 record, an ERA of 2.08, and a #9 ranking in the conference with 53 strikeouts.
Holding up the Anteater bullpen has been junior All-American reliever Blair Erickson, who was recently named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midseason Stopper of the Year watch list. Erickson has 10 saves on the year and has struck out more than a third of the batters he has faced.
“Irvine’s record is a little deceptive,” Myers said. “They will pitch well in their pitcher-friendly ballpark. They have 97 stolen base attempts, so if we can keep the leadoff hitter off base, it will take some pressure off our pitchers.”
Junior pitchers Andy Graham, Jeff Braun and Brian Fleming will form the weekend rotation for Santa Barbara once again. Braun was outstanding against Pacific’s freshman pitcher Joey Centanni – one of the best throwers in the Big West – in his last outing, holding the Tigers to one run through six innings in a no-decision. Fleming also picked up a no-decision in the Gauchos’ lone win against Pacific, while Graham took the loss in the series opener.
“Personally, I hope it’s a low-scoring series,” Myers said. “It’ll be reflective of how we work the strike zone and how we keep the pressure on their pitchers. It’ll be a matchup of two very similar ball clubs.”
The UCSB offense has scored two or less runs in four of their last five games – all of which resulted in losses – and will have to dig deep to score runs against the Anteaters.
“I think in general, we have the approach that we’re going to be an execution team against any club we play,” Myers said. “Nobody is going to wait for the three-run home run in this conference. We need to get a man on and hit and run and advance runners.”
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Irvine.