After stealing a game from one Big West power last weekend, the UCSB baseball team looks to repeat the feat this weekend as the squad travels to perennial powerhouse Long Beach State.
The Dirtbags (26-21 overall, 9-3 in the Big West) may be the hottest team in the conference, having won 10 of their last 12, including the last three in a row. The Dirtbags have won three of their four conferences series thus far, their only series loss coming against last place Cal State Northridge.
“We’re 5-1 against them the last two years,” Gaucho junior pitcher Andy Graham said. “We have a lot of confidence, and they are Long Beach and we don’t like Long Beach.”
Junior Dirtbag pitcher Andrew Carpenter received Big West Pitcher of the Week honors for the fourth time this season and leads a Long Beach staff that owns the second lowest ERA in the conference. Carpenter is fifth in the Big West in strikeouts and ERA, while Saturday’s junior starter Jared Hughes ranks eighth in ERA.
“They throw strikes and attack the strike zone,” Gaucho Pitching Coach Tom Myers said. “They’re going to be around the plate all weekend and we’re going to need to execute offensively and defensively to be successfully.”
Pacing the Dirtbags offense is junior third basemen and National Player of the Year candidate Evan Longoria, who is among the conference leaders in just about every category imaginable. Long Beach has plated at least seven runs in seven of the squad’s last 12 games.
“Their offensive style is similar to [Cal State] Fullerton’s in that they try to execute and bring in a run every inning,” Myers said.
The Gauchos (21-23 overall, 6-9 Big West) are led by junior shortstop and Big West Player of the Week Chris Valaika, whose 48 RBI are almost twice that of any teammate. The UCSB offense did well against quality Titan pitching over the weekend, but managed only three hits in Tuesday’s win over UCLA.
“If you rely on one or two guys to run offense, it doesn’t generally breed success,” Myers said. “If we get quality contributions throughout the lineup, we’re successful and that’s what we’ve done last two weekends.”
The recent success of the pitching staff can be partially attributed to the turnaround by Graham. As the Friday starter, the squad looks to him to set the tone for the weekend, and he has done just that in his past two starts. Against Northridge, Graham allowed two runs through 8.1 innings and held the powerful Fullerton offense to five runs in six innings.
“I’ve gone back to the basics and to what was successful at the beginning of the year,” Graham said. “I’ve simplified everything because I was trying to do too much when I was struggling.”
Long Beach sits well ahead of the pack in the conference standings, trailing only Fullerton. Santa Barbara has won only one series in conference play and currently sits in sixth place in the conference with only two series remaining.
The first pitch of the series is this evening at 6:30 p.m.