After easily defeating Westmont on Tuesday, the UCSB baseball team will welcome a much tougher opponent to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this weekend.
Senior right-handed pitcher Steve Morlock (1-1) and senior southpaw Jeff Braun (0-0) will take the mound for the Gauchos (3-3 overall) who will host Cal (5-5) in a rare Sunday/Monday series.
“[Cal] has not been down to our field in quite a while, so it’s nice to play them down here,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It’s another good opponent and it’s nice to play a good opponent at home. You usually have to go on the road to play Pac-10 teams.”
Morlock has been brilliant on the mound so far for the Gauchos, giving up only one earned run in 14 innings of work. Opposing hitters are hitting only .208 against Morlock, who has struck out 14 batters while allowing only 10 hits and one walk.
While Braun has yet to pick up a win, he has pitched well as the Gauchos Saturday starter. Braun has a 2.70 ERA in two starts this season, while allowing opponents to hit only .206 at the plate. The pitching staff has been dominant as a whole, entering this weekend with 51 strikeouts in 55 innings and a staff ERA of 2.78.
“Our pitching has been the key up to this point,” Brontsema said. “Our team ERA is pretty good compared to recent years and that’s the part of the team that we’re going to lean on.”
A pair of transfers from El Camino College have given UCSB’s lineup a boost, as juniors Chris Fox and Mike Zuanich have firmly entrenched themselves in the starting outfield. Fox, the Gauchos’ centerfielder and leadoff hitter, leads the team with a .467 batting average and two stolen bases. Zuanich is hitting .333 with a team-leading four RBI, and he has provided some much needed protection for senior first baseman Robbie Blauer.
“Both [Zuanich and senior right fielder Mario Lewis] have swung the bat well behind Robbie,” Brontsema said. “Chris Fox has also made a difference for us and he’s doing a good job at the top of the lineup. Obviously you need a good leadoff hitter if you want to score runs.”
The Gauchos should have an advantage over the Bears before the games even start, as Cal will play a series against #20 Long Beach State (6-4) on Friday and Saturday before traveling to Santa Barbara.
Sunday’s first pitch between the Gauchos and Bears will be at 1 p.m., with Monday’s game starting at 2 p.m.