After sweeping reigning Big West champion UC Riverside last weekend at home to keep their postseason hopes alive, the UCSB baseball team (34-19 overall, 13-8 in the Big West) will depart to Irvine this weekend to take on the # 9 Anteaters (36-15, 12-9 Big West), hoping to sweep or take two of three in the final series of the season to help ensure their first postseason berth since 2001.
“Winning two out of three would solidify third place [in the Big West], if not second place, depending on what Long Beach State does this weekend,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “They [the selection committee] are already talking about Irvine going to the postseason, so it would seal the deal for us if we can pull off the series win.”
Though UCSB comes into their final three games of the season with a lot of momentum – having won their last four while scoring 42 runs – they are facing a formidable UC Irvine team that is red-hot in their own right, having taken down their past four weekend series. The Gauchos would like nothing more than to upset a top-ten in the nation team and make a run through the postseason as Irvine did in 2007, as the Anteaters went all the way to the Final Four as the Cinderella story of the College World Series.
“They’re a very well-rounded, competitive team that likes to use small ball,” sophomore second baseman Gunnar Terhune said. “They know what is at stake for us, and they’re the team to beat.”
Despite UCI’s newfound standing among national powerhouses, Santa Barbara is far from intimidated heading into this weekend’s do-or-die season finale, brimming with confidence in their ability to produce versus any opponent.
“Our offense has carried us this year, and our starting pitching has been the same way,” Terhune said. “If we play up to our capabilities, I don’t think anyone in the country will be able to stop us.”
Though UCSB was not judged as a Big West contender entering this season after a sub-par 2007 campaign where they finished with a 23-31 overall record, the success of the team by no means comes as a shock to the Gaucho players.
“I don’t think that we’re surprised at how good we are, because we could see all of our talent since the first day of fall ball,” Terhune said. “There’s a lot of pressure going into this series, but if we put it all together, I think we have a good chance of surprising everyone.”
UCSB will have to solve their road woes this weekend if they wish to pull off the upset, as they enter the series with a less-than-impressive 11-13 road record opposed to its dominant 23-6 record at home. According to Brontsema, Anteater Ballpark is a very different playing field than Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, which should keep the Gauchos on their toes on the defensive end. Santa Barbara will also have to overcome some adversity this weekend, as their sophomore ace Mike Ford (6-4, 2.88 ERA) is currently sidelined with the flu.
“We’d either move [senior Sunday starter Chuck] Huggins into Friday and see if Ford could pitch on Sunday, or throw [senior mid-week starter] Michael Martin on the hill on Friday and let the regular starters fall into place,” Brontsema said.
Whether or not the Gauchos take the series from UCI to keep their season alive, this season has been a great resurgence for UC Santa Barbara baseball after toiling in the middle of the pack in the Big West for the past several years. If the team manages to earn a coveted postseason bid, they are more than ready to craft a Cinderella story of their own.
“If we play our type of baseball, moving runners over, getting bunts down, having our starting pitching go late into games, there’s really no limit for us,” Terhune said. “We’ve got a chance to do something pretty special here, so hopefully we can make the Regionals and take it one game at a time.”