The #28 UC Santa Barbara baseball team entered the season with high expectations after barely missing the 2008 playoffs, ranking in the top 30 of several notable preseason polls. After sweeping the visiting Loyola Marymount Lions (8-6 overall), a team that recently blew out #5 UC Irvine, in a four game series, it is apparent that Santa Barbara is living up to all the hype.
After grinding their way to three hard-fought wins over Friday and Saturday, the Gauchos (9-2 overall) capped off a successful homestand with a 10-3 stomping of a downtrodden LMU squad in Sunday’s finale. It was a fitting end to a weekend that saw UCSB plate 32 runs over four games, showcasing an explosive offense that paved the way for several Santa Barbara comebacks.
“It was nice to see that even though we got down in games we were able to come back and prevail,” sophomore starting pitcher Mario Hollands said. “It showed that even if we don’t bring our A-game, pitching-wise we have the bats to score plenty of runs.”
The bats were quiet in Friday’s opener facing the stifling pitching of Lions starter Lee Robert, who gave up just one hit while striking out eight in over six innings pitched. Fortunately for the Gauchos, their starter was even better, as Hollands shut out the Lions going the full nine innings while giving up only one hit in the process.
“He [Hollands] was outstanding,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “He threw pitches for strikes, varied speeds and located his fastball with great command.”
A lone run manufactured in the bottom of the eighth was all the run
support the lanky left-hander would need, with senior center fielder Brian Gump stealing second before being knocked in by senior first baseman Eric Oliver.
Oliver, who had been struggling from the plate heading into the weekend series, continued his hot hitting in Saturday’s double header after accounting for the Friday game’s lone run batted in. The Gaucho’s number three hitter anchored a potent middle-of-the-batting order going 4-8 with four RBI’s, as UCSB topped LMU 12-9 in an early-morning thriller before winning 9-5 in the second leg.
“It’s all about not trying to do too much and just worry about getting on base,” Oliver said. “When we’re all stringing base hits together we can put runs up on the board in a hurry.”
One of the other bats getting it done for UCSB was that of junior shortstop Ryan Cavan, who has been filling in defensively for senior shortstop Shane Carlson as he DHs while recovering from a rotator cuff injury. The Chapman College transfer had five hits over two games on Saturday, setting the table batting second in the lineup in front of Oliver.
“Everyone’s afraid of the Cav-man,” Hollands said. “He’s been bringing steady defense [in place of Carlson] and really timely hitting.”
The timely hitting carried over to Sunday’s finale, where the Gauchos pounded out 10 runs on 13 hits, providing plenty of run support for junior starting pitcher Mike Ford who went six innings for his team-leading third win of the season.
Despite the national recognition UCSB will receive as they continue their climb to the top of collegiate baseball, the Gauchos remain focused on taking the season one game at a time without worrying about external judgment.
“We always say that polls and the hype that you receive is like poison. On the shelf it’s nice and harmless, but if you start swallowing it, it’s going to kill you,” Brontsema said.
Needless to say, UCSB’s upcoming opponents will have a tough time killing Santa Barbara’s momentum, as the team boasts a winning streak that stands at six games in a row.