With its last hopes for the postseason on the line, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team will face #1 UC Irvine this weekend in a three-game home series at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Since the series is the last of the Gauchos’ regular season, UCSB Athletics will honor the team’s eight graduating seniors in a ceremony before Friday’s game at 2 p.m.

“It probably won’t set in until it’s all over,” senior centerfielder Brian Gump said. “It’s been a great ride. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Gaucho baseball.”

After losing two of three to UC Riverside last weekend, the Gauchos dropped to 10-11 in Big West play and 28-21 overall. The Anteaters are 20-1 in conference play and 41-12 overall.

However, the Gauchos share similar numbers with the Anteaters in key statistical categories. For instance, UCSB bats .302, while the Anteaters bat a comparable .317. Neither team hits for big power, though the Gauchos have 47 home runs to the Anteaters’ 41. The Gauchos get on base 38 percent of the time, while the Anteaters have an on-base percentage hovering around .400. Irvine’s pitching staff has an ERA of 4.42 compared to the Gauchos’ 5.33. While overall statistical discrepancies indicate that the Anteaters have performed slightly better than the Gauchos this season, what makes Irvine the top-ranked team in the country?

“We’re trying to figure that out too,” Gump said. “It’s crazy. They probably don’t have any player on their team that will be drafted higher than the seventh or the eighth round, but it’s a tribute to their execution. Everyone [on their team] can put a bunt down for a hit and execute hit-and-runs. Teams that are aggressive like that put a lot of pressure on the defense.”

“It’s very hard to [develop a strategy] for this team,” sophomore left-hander Mario Hollands said. “They are similar to [Cal State] Fullerton, with less power. But they seem to do everything right and don’t make any mistakes.”

Last season, the Gauchos dropped two of three against the Anteaters in Irvine in a series that would have likely given them a 2008 playoff bid.

Since Gaucho ace Joe Gardner suffered a strained oblique last weekend, junior right hander Mike Ford is tentatively set to start in Friday’s game against Irvine lefty Daniel Bibona, who has posted a 2.23 ERA to go along with a 10-1 record and 85 strikeouts in 93 innings.

“I believe Ford’s ready to throw on Friday,” Hollands said. “He’s been pitching well.”

Hollands, who had a rough outing last weekend against the Highlanders after allowing eight runs in six and two-thirds innings, will start on Saturday against Irvine right-hander Christian Bergman, who has a 2.90 ERA in 87 innings. On Sunday, Gaucho right-hander Zach Samuels will start after he pitched for a solid four-run, six-inning effort on May 17 in the Gauchos’ only victory over Riverside in the series.

“A big thing [for us] to do is get the leadoff batter of every inning out,” senior shortstop Shane Carlson said. “Every time they have runners in scoring position, that guy scores. [If we get the leadoff guys out], we won’t have to worry as much about runners in scoring position.”

On Friday, the team will be hosting Diabetes Awareness Day in honor of the UCSB research team that developed an artificial pancreas for diabetics, while also paying tribute to Santa Barbara junior catcher Doug Hansen, an athlete afflicted with Type I diabetes. UCSB Athletics is also giving away free Chipotle coupons to the first 50 fans on Friday, UCSB beach towels to the first 100 fans on Saturday and free pizza from Dominos to the first 100 fans on Sunday.

“It will be great to get as many people as we can out there,” Gump said. “We’re going in with nothing to lose.”