After a surprising nonconference loss to Cal State Northridge (16-20 overall, 4-8 in the Big West) on the road this past Tuesday, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team (27-12, 6-3 Big West) will resume conference play this weekend at San Luis Obispo, taking on rival Cal Poly (17-20, 5-7 Big West). The 7-0 loss to Northridge snapped UCSB’s four-game win streak, and marked the first time the Gauchos have been shutout all season.
“A couple of our guys weren’t feeling too well, but we all came out a little flat,” junior right fielder Brian Gump said. “It’s tough to beat a team six times in a row, but to their credit they played better than we had seen them play all year.”
Santa Barbara will face a difficult test trying to rebound from its mid-week loss to the Matadors, taking on a red-hot Mustang squad that has won eight of its last 11 games. Cal Poly has gotten the better of the Gauchos in recent years, claiming the past four conference series against UCSB. Though the tables have turned in the Big West this year in terms of record with Santa Barbara handily out-winning their local rival, the Gaucho players know full well that they cannot take this weekend’s series lightly.
“I don’t think their record shows how good they are, as they are just starting to come into their own with their pitching staff,” senior center fielder Chris Fox said. “I’d rank them right up there with the top Big West teams like Irvine and Fullerton.”
In their two meetings this season back in early March, both teams held down their home turf, splitting a pair of nonconference games. UCSB won the first game 10-8 at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium before falling on the road 15-6. Though both matchups came in mid-week fashion with neither team throwing out their top starting pitchers, needless to say, this upcoming three-game series will be a high-scoring affair as it features the number one and number three offensive ball clubs in the Big West.
“They match-up with us very well in the sense that both of us are very strong offensively,” Fox said. “I think we have the upper hand with our starters but lately their starters have been throwing great so it’s hard to say who has the advantage.”
All three Santa Barbara weekend starters are coming off victorious efforts against a dangerous USC offense, most notably sophomore right hander Mike Ford (5-2, 2.79 ERA) and senior left hander Chuck Huggins (7-1, 3.47 ERA), both of whom went the distance with Huggins notching his first complete game shutout of the season. The “Big 3” seemed to have no trouble slowing down the bats of a Trojan club that had won eight of their last 10 coming in, and would like nothing more than to see the same results against the Mustangs.
“I think it’s going to end up being a defensive series,” Fox said. “Whoever can make the routine plays and make less errors will come out successful this weekend.”
“We are both going into it with a lot of respect for each other, and the rivalry always makes for close, well-played games,” Gump said.