With an outside shot to make the postseason with only six games remaining on their schedule, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team (31-19 overall, 10-8 in the Big West) will head into their final home series this weekend against reigning conference champion UC Riverside (19-28, 12-6 Big West) needing to win at least two out of three to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“We would definitely like to win all three games, because in our last series of the year we play UC Irvine, and they’re a top-10-in-the-nation team,” senior pitcher Michael Martin said. “We’ve had a good home record all season, so hopefully we can keep that going in our last games here.”
Pulling out a sweep against the Highlanders would be an ideal situation for a Gaucho squad currently in a three-way tie for fourth in the Big West. Unfortunately for UCSB, Riverside comes in with a great deal of momentum, having won their past five series in-conference, now trailing only #8 Cal State Fullerton in the Big West standings, despite a horrendous win-loss record in non-conference games.
“[Riverside was] projected to be good before the season started but have really been coming into their own since Big West games started,” freshman outfielder Mark Haddow said.
“They were the champions last year, and I’m sure they’re riding that high right now with all the success they’ve had,” Martin said. “If we go in with the right mental state with the confidence that they’re coming in with, we are definitely capable of an upset.”
UCSB will need to click on all cylinders if they wish to pull off the upset, and they do hold a statistical edge over the Highlanders, coming in with better numbers across the board in nearly all team offense, defense and pitching categories. The Gauchos will hope for some inspiring performances out of their seven graduating seniors, attempting to fill up the stat sheet as they play their final games at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in front of the hometown faithful.
The trio of Santa Barbara senior starters – third baseman Patrick Rose (.344 average, 35 runs, 8 stolen bases), center fielder Chris Fox (.344 average, 39 RBI, 21 stolen bases) and left fielder Mike Zuanich (.294 average, 12 HR, 49 RBI) – should provide some big hits from the middle of the order, as they ignite the Gaucho offense. However, the most significant senior performance this weekend could very well come from lefty Chuck Huggins (8-2, 3.99 ERA, 71 K), who will take the mound in Sunday’s series finale coming off his team-leading eighth win against Long Beach State on the road.
“It’s do or die for us this weekend, and I know all of our older guys are going to do all they can to keep our season alive,” Martin said.
Though the seniors will no doubt bring their best this weekend in a must-win series, it will be up to a couple of the young guys to get the series started off right. Sophomore ace Mike Ford (5-4, 2.98 ERA, 71 K) will lead things off in Friday’s series opener at 2:00 p.m., followed by redshirt freshman southpaw Mario Hollands (6-2, 3.47 ERA, 51 K) on Saturday.
“We [UCSB and UCR] are both coming into the series expecting to win,” Haddow said. “Whoever wants it more is going to come out on top.”