Riding a season-high four-game win streak, the UCSB baseball team will play host to one of its toughest opponents of the season as #20 UC Irvine comes to town for a three game series.
The Gauchos (16-18 overall, 4-2 in the Big West) enter the weekend tied for second place in the Big West, but the Anteaters (26-10-1 overall, 5-4 in the Big West) represent a significant upgrade over UCSB’s previous opponents. UC Irvine is batting .311 as a team to go along with a team earned run average of 3.85.
“[UC Irvine] is going to be hungry because they just lost two of three and I certainly think it’s an important series for them,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It’s going to be a big series and if we can play like we are capable of we are going to be right there in the mix.”
In their last four games, the Gauchos are averaging over 10 runs per game. The key for the Santa Barbara’s offense recently has been the success that juniors Chris Fox and Patrick Rose are having in getting on base in front of senior first baseman Robbie Blauer. Fox and Rose are a combined 17-for-31 during the winning streak, with 12 runs scored and eight RBI. Hitting third in the order behind Fox and Rose, Blauer leads the Gauchos in almost every hitting category including batting average and RBI. Perhaps more impressively, Blauer has struck out only six times in 159 plate appearances this season.
“[Fox] has been very good the last four games and you are only as good as your lead-off hitter,” Brontsema said. “He’s been good and [Rose] has been swinging the bat really well. [With Fox and Rose on base] Robbie Blauer is going to do some things for us like he has all year, and that’s going to be big against a very good Irvine team.”
UCSB is expected to send junior southpaw Chuck Huggins (5-0, 3.40) to the mound in today’s series opener. Since moving into the starting rotation, Huggins has averaged almost a strikeout per inning while lasting at least five innings in each of his starts. Freshman right hander Mike Ford (1-1, 6.07) will start on Saturday, and while his numbers suggest that he has struggled, Ford has been lights out in seven of his nine starts. Following a triumphant return to the rotation last Sunday, senior lefty Jeff Braun (1-5, 6.44) will take the ball in the series finale.
The Anteaters feature eight players batting over .300 and an ace on the mound in junior right-hander Wes Etheridge (9-1, 2.35). If UC Irvine enters the late innings with a lead, it will turn the ball over to senior Blair Erickson, the NCAA’s all-time saves leader with 51.
Today’s first pitch will be at 2 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, with both weekend games starting at 1 p.m.