With 12th ranked Cal Poly coming to town, the UCSB Baseball team will have its hands full at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this weekend. The Gauchos think they are up for the challenge.
Coming off a 17-2 slaughter of the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners, Santa Barbara (22-12, 5-4 Big West) will face a much stauncher opponent in the Mustangs. Cal Poly (27-9, 8-4) has catapulted its way to becoming a contender on the national scene this season, and is one of several tough conference matchups UCSB still has ahead.
“Hopefully [the Bakersfield win] will carry over to this weekend, because we’re going to need it against Cal Poly,” sophomore pitcher Mario Hollands said.
The Mustangs are led by sophomore outfielder DJ Gentile, who is batting at a vicious .388 average, along with power-hitting freshman Matt Jensen. The infielder boasts the team lead in home runs and RBIs, as well as slugging percentage. Despite a Cal Poly roster featuring seven starters batting .348 or above, the Gaucho pitching staff is not intimidated.
“Our chances are pretty good this weekend,” senior right-hander Zach Samuels said. “Having a home series really helps us, and Cal Poly being a rival means we’re really going to come out to play.”
Cal Poly’s pitching, while nothing to scoff at, will likely have a decisive role in the series’ outcome. If the Gauchos are able to put up big runs against a Mustang staff that has averaged 5.71 runs per game and a .307 average, it could make the series for UCSB.
One key to UCSB’s offense clicking will be the play of Ryan “The Cav Man” Cavan. The junior transfer had a career-high 5 RBIs on Tuesday, and is hitting at a .360 clip on the season.
“He’s just an all around solid player,” Samuels said. “He’s going to come to the ballpark and give 110% every day.”
Power-wise, though, the Gauchos have no shortage of batters to provide the deep-ball. All but one Santa Barbara regular starter has at least two jacks on the season, and four have at least five.
Hollands, Samuels, junior righties Joe Gardner and Mike Ford make up the Santa Barbara regular starters, and have a combined 15-8 record between them. Gardner leads the way with a 3.28 ERA in nine starts, while in relief sophomore Greg Davis has pitched 14 innings with only one run allowed.
At 22-12, UCSB is firmly planted on the bubble in the NCAA playoff chase, but with so many quality opponents coming up the Gauchos have plenty of opportunity to play their way in. The series with the Mustangs, who are for the time being on the inside looking out, will go a long way to deciding UCSB’s fate.
The three-game set starts this Friday at 2 p.m., before 1 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday.