The UCSB baseball team will get a taste of the pro experience this weekend when it travels to Fullerton to play a pair of rare games under the lights.
The Gauchos (19-21 overall, 7-5 in the Big West) will take on the #18 Titans (27-15, 7-5 Big West) in a pivotal three-game series for both teams. Both Friday and Saturday nights’ games will begin at 7 p.m., which should force the Gauchos to make some adjustments as they acclimate themselves to playing under lights.
“I’m not too worried about it, but it is a factor, no question about it,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We’re going to have to adjust. We’re facing one of the better pitchers in the country in [junior right hander Wes Roemer] and he doesn’t need that many advantages, so it just makes it more of a challenge. We’ve played a handful of night games, just not a ton.”
The Gauchos are coming off a weekend in which they took two out of three games from Cal State Northridge (14-30, 2-10 Big West), while the Titans are still trying to recover from a three-game sweep at the hands of conference co-leader UC Riverside (28-16, 7-2 Big West). As a result, UCSB and Fullerton are tied with UC Irvine (31-13-1, 7-5 Big West) for fourth place in the conference. With a slate of tough Big West matchups on tap for this weekend, the winner of the UCSB-Fullerton series has a good shot at moving up into third place and gaining some ground on the league leaders.
“I think all the teams in the Big West are pretty tough, but it still looks like five or six losses is going to be right [where the league champion ends up],” Brontsema said. “We’re not necessarily looking at that. We’re looking at going to Fullerton and trying to win a series and let the chips fall where they may.”
UCSB’s lineup has solidified in recent weeks, with junior centerfielder Chris Fox and junior third baseman Patrick Rose doing an excellent job of getting on base at the top of the order. Senior first baseman Robbie Blauer continues to put up stellar numbers in the three spot, coming into the weekend hitting .394 with four home runs and 32 RBI. Junior leftfielder Mike Zuanich has settled into the cleanup spot, and a strong series last weekend has allowed him to make a run at Blauer’s team-leading RBI total.
“We’re going to go with the lineup that we think gives us the best opportunity to win,” Brontsema said. “Those guys have been swinging the bat well, so we’re going into the weekend with that mentality.”
UCSB’s starting rotation of junior Chuck Huggins (6-1, 4.44), freshman Mike Ford (2-1, 5.66), and senior Jeff Braun (2-6, 6.14) will face a tough task this weekend when it squares off against one of the league’s best pitching rotations. Along with Roemer (6-5, 3.19), the Titans are likely to send junior Jeff Kaplan (7-3, 3.26) and freshman Sean Urena (3-3, 4.08) to the mound.