After a five-game road trip that ended with a season sweep of Cal State Northridge this past Tuesday, the UCSB baseball team (22-9 overall, 5-1 in the Big West) will return home this weekend for its third and most challenging conference test of the season against visiting UC Davis (21-10 overall, 3-0 in the Big West). The Aggies, in their inaugural season in the Big West, have already established themselves as a huge threat to the seasoned conference contenders, with a current win percentage lower than only UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.
“I am not surprised with their success at all, because they had a timeline leading up to this season,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Their pitching and hitting have been very good all year round, which has led to victories over a lot of good teams.”
Davis has been getting it done with an approach that is very similar to that of the Gauchos, using a combination of dominant starting pitching and consistent hitting up and down its line-up. In Friday afternoon’s home opener, the aces of both squads will take the mound: senior right-hander Eddie Gamboa for Davis, and sophomore Mike Ford for Santa Barbara.
“We hope Mike can come out and set the tone for us on Friday, and as long as he can command his fastball and throw his secondary pitches for strikes, he should be good to go,” Brontsema said.
Taking over for Ford over the weekend will be southpaws Mario Hollands and Chuck Huggins. Hollands, a redshirt freshman, is 3-1 this year with a 2.70 ERA, largely due to the phenomenal control he’s shown in seven starts. In 43 1/3 innings this year, Hollands has struck out 35 batters while walking only nine. Huggins, a junior, leads the team with a 6-1 record to go along with a 3.38 ERA. The Redwood City native is missing plenty of bats this season, allowing opponents to hit only .221 with 49 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings.
UCSB’s lineup is led at the top by junior outfielder Brian Gump and senior outfielder Chris Fox. Having started every game this season, Gump is hitting a team-leading .381, with 17 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Fox is right on his heels in both categories with a .376 batting average and 13 steals, along with a team-leading .581 slugging percentage.
The Aggies and Gauchos currently sit atop the Big West standings, making this a crucial series for both teams, with many of the traditional conference powers struggling in the opening weeks of league play.
“This is our first real tough test in the Big West, and it will be a measuring stick for how good we are,” Hollands said.
Today’s first pitch is at 2 p.m., with both weekend games set to begin at 1 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The entire series can be heard online at KCSB.org.