Two complete games, including a nine-inning shutout on Sunday courtesy of senior left-hander Chuck Huggins, propelled the UC Santa Barbara baseball team (27-11 overall, 7-3 in the Big West) to a three-game sweep over USC (19-19 overall, 6-6 in the Pac-10). The dominant starting pitching was backed by a surging Gaucho offense that plated 35 runs over the weekend, including a 21-run blowout on Saturday.
“USC is a good team that we were hoping to win two from, but three’s just a bonus,” senior left fielder Mike Zuanich said. “Our offense really showed up the entire weekend, and they [USC] couldn’t get their bats going in any of the games.”
Sophomore right-hander Mike Ford (5-2, 2.79 ERA) got things started for UCSB in Friday’s series opener at Caesar Uyesaka stadium, tossing his first complete game in a Gaucho uniform, allowing four runs with eight strikeouts. With the score knotted at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, Zuanich launched an RBI triple to deep center field to break the tie, and the Gauchos would not look back from there, taking game one 6-4.
“Our starters are definitely finding their groove,” Zuanich said. “Ford had a few shaky outings in the middle of the year, but has been lights out in his last couple starts.”
Redshirt freshman Mario Hollands (4-2, 3.13 ERA) kept things rolling for Santa Barbara in Saturday’s road game at USC, tossing six solid innings while giving up only one run in a 23-2 beat down. Three hit efforts from junior outfielder Brian Gump and senior third baseman Patrick Rose would lead the way for the Gauchos, with Zuanich (.319, 43 RBI) providing the pop by blasting off for his Big West leading 11th time of the season.
“For our offense to work, we want to manufacture runs and maintain a balanced attack,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Up and down the lineup, every guy one through nine made contributions.”
The Santa Barbara bats had a bit of trouble getting started in Sunday’s finale at home, scoring only one run through six innings before exploding for four runs in the seventh including a two-run opposite field homer from junior first baseman Eric Oliver (.331, 28 RBI). The offense provided more than enough cushion for Huggins (7-1, 3.47 ERA), who went the distance while striking out seven Trojans in a 6-0 victory.
“I thought we competed well for 27 innings in all areas,” Brontsema said. “We swung the bat extremely well, and to our guys’ credit, they stayed competitive and did not give away any at-bats.”
With a convincing sweep of a proven Pac-10 foe that brings their overall win percentage to second in the Big West, the Gauchos should begin to draw consideration in the national rankings as they continue to make their way through a formidable schedule that still includes conference tests versus Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, and UC Irvine.