After seeing their seven-game win streak come to an end on the road at Pepperdine on Wednesday, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team (19-8 overall, 3-0 in the Big West) will look to rebound as it continues the road trip against a lowly Pacific squad (5-20, 0-3 Big West) that sits at the bottom of the Big West overall standings. Santa Barbara’s second conference series of the season will begin today at 6 p.m. at Klein Family Field in Stockton, with sophomore ace Mike Ford (3-2, 2.58 ERA) taking the mound for the Gauchos.
In last season’s meeting with Pacific, UCSB swept a three-game series in convincing fashion, scoring 27 runs over the weekend. To further assist Santa Barbara’s cause, the Tigers come into today’s contest having dropped their previous six games. Despite Pacific’s struggles in nonconference play, the Gaucho players are not overlooking a Big West foe that has proven its ability to take down powerhouse opponents, with wins over Stanford and Houston.
“Whenever you play any team in the Big West, you know it’s not going to be easy, so you have to go out there ready to play at your highest level,” junior center fielder Brian Gump said. “Pacific may not be as hyped as Pepperdine, but we know we are going to have to play our best if we want to come out of there with a sweep.”
Playing to its potential has not been an issue for the Gaucho offense thus far this season, as UCSB leads the Big West Conference in home runs (28), runs scored (202) and total bases (459). Though the entire Santa Barbara line-up has produced at the plate, with a combined .319 batting average for the regular starters, the two players leading the charge for the Gauchos have been Gump and senior designated hitter Chris Fox.
Gump continues to excel at a leadoff position that he was awarded back in early March and is leading the team with an outstanding .411 batting average while also topping the charts in hits (44), runs scored (31) and stolen bases (16). Fox, who bats out of the two hole as the designated hitter, is second behind Gump in all of the aforementioned stat categories and has provided some pop, as he is tied for the team lead in home runs (4) with three Gauchos batting in the middle of the line-up. Ironically, it was Gump who prompted Fox’s shift into the DH role when Head Coach Bob Brontsema decided to move Gump from right field into center.
“Me and Chris [Fox] are in a little competition with each other,” Gump said. “We are always pushing one another to get better in every aspect of the game.”
The big three of Ford, freshman left hander Mario Hollands (3-1, 2.97 ERA) and senior southpaw Chuck Huggins (5-1, 3.53 ERA) will all take the mound in the weekend series, pitching behind the imposing UCSB offense. After his 11-strikeout performance last weekend, Huggins now leads the team in strikeouts with 44, followed closely by Ford who has 38. Hollands has been stellar in his own right, allowing only 12 runs in over 36 innings of work. The three starters are quickly becoming one of the most feared weekend rotations in all of the Big West.
“When we have Mike [Ford], Mario [Hollands] or Huggy [Huggins] going for us, we know we’ve got a great chance of winning, even if we can’t put up a lot of runs,” senior third baseman Patrick Rose said. “If those guys can do what they’ve done all season long, I don’t see why we can’t come out of Pacific with three wins under our belt.”