After taking two out of three games from Pacific over the weekend, the UCSB baseball team will wrap up its five-game road trip tomorrow at Cal State Northridge in a nonconference game against a surging Matador squad that is coming off a series sweep against Cal Poly.
Although UCSB (21-9 overall, 5-1 in the Big West) holds a 4-0 record against Northridge (13-13, 3-3 Big West) – including a three-game sweep of CSUN only two weeks ago – the Gauchos are not taking their mid-week matchup lightly. While Santa Barbara’s series win against Pacific kept things rolling, offensive struggles in Friday and Saturday’s contests against a Big West bottom-feeder might have served as a wake-up call to a team trying to contend with the likes of Irvine and Fullerton atop the conference standings.
“Usually this season we’ve been getting ahead early and have relied on our pitching to take us the rest of the way,” junior infielder Robby Cummings said. “In a couple of our games [against Pacific], we were forced into some pressure situations where we needed those big hits late, which was a good test for us in case we find ourselves in spots like that against Northridge or anyone else.”
Taking the hill for UCSB will be senior right-hander Michael Martin (3-1, 3.24 E.R.A.), who has been utilized as both a fourth starter and late-inning reliever throughout the season. Martin’s last start was nothing short of phenomenal, as the sixth-year pitcher, who has battled his way through elbow injuries for the past two years, shut out #11 nationally ranked Pepperdine through seven innings on April Fool’s Day.
In his next appearance after one of the best starts of his collegiate career, Martin would not see repeat results trying to close out game two of the series against Pacific, blowing his second save opportunity of the season in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“The Pacific guys weren’t making too much solid contact off Mike [Martin]’s pitches, but he caught a few bad breaks that allowed them to score a couple runs and win the game,” Pitching Coach Tom Myers said. “Whenever Mike [Martin] takes the hill, whether he’s starting or coming out of the [bull]pen, you know his command is going to be there and that he will give us a great chance to win.”
Junior center fielder Brian Gump (.377, 31 runs, 16 stolen bases), a player who has led the Gaucho offense since being moved to the leadoff spot, struggled against the Tigers in a two-for-15 effort. However, the Gaucho sluggers in the middle of the lineup including senior left fielder Mike Zuanich (.327 average, five homeruns, 31 RBI) and junior catcher Chris McMurray (.325, five homeruns, 21 RBI) came alive.
The power disparity between UCSB and CSUN, a 30-13 homerun advantage for the Gauchos, should be instrumental in propelling Santa Barbara to another victory over a team that, in the words of color commentary legend Mike Krukow, has “ownage” on them.
“We are fairly confident going into tomorrow, but we approach every game with the same mentality; respect all and fear none,” Cummings said.