The UCSB baseball team will hit the road today in hopes of shaking off a weekend sweep and bolstering the team’s non-conference resume.
After getting swept at home by Big West leader Long Beach State (34-14 overall, 13-2 in the Big West), the Gauchos (21-25, 9-9 Big West) will head to L.A. to take on a USC (24-23, 7-9 Pac-10) team that is making a late-season run at a postseason bid. UCSB has not played a nonconference game in almost a month, and overall this season the team is 12-16 against non-Big West opponents.
“Maybe the players lose some focus [in nonconference games], but hopefully that doesn’t happen,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “The game never changes; we go at every game the same way.”
A week ago, the Gauchos looked to be a team on the rise, with a resurgent bullpen finally protecting leads for a lineup that has been crushing the ball all season long. That view no longer holds true, however, as Santa Barbara gave up six runs in the ninth inning on Saturday before surrendering eight runs in Sunday’s eleventh inning. Overall this season, the Gauchos have lost seven games that they have led after the sixth inning.
Despite the recent losses, Santa Barbara continues to tear the cover off the ball. UCSB is hitting .286 as a team, led by senior first baseman Robbie Blauer, who has hovered near .400 all season long. Blauer is hitting .396 to go along with four home runs and a team-high 36 RBI. Junior centerfielder Chris Fox has hit .320 as the leadoff hitter, with 31 runs scored and a team-leading 13 stolen bases. Junior infielder Patrick Rose has settled in nicely between Fox and Blauer with a .296 average while junior left fielder Mike Zuanich has provided some protection for Blauer with five homers and 34 RBI.
After early season struggles, middle infielders Matt Valaika and Shane Carlson have settled in at the bottom of the order to provide the lineup with invaluable depth. Only a freshman, Valaika is tied for the team lead with six homers, and his slugging percentage trails only Blauer. In his second season as a Gaucho, Carlson has used a recent hot streak to up his average to .255, in addition to playing stellar defense at shortstop.
Riding a three-game losing streak, the Gauchos face four consecutive road games before returning home next week for a rematch against the Trojans. In addition to tonight’s game, UCSB will play a three-game set against future Big West opponent UC Davis (20-28).
“We’re going to attack the [upcoming] games and our non-conference schedule because we would like to get back to .500,” Brontsema said.
The Gauchos are only 1-5 in night games this season, an ominous sign since tonight’s first pitch at USC’s Dedeaux Field will be at 6 p.m.