Under clear skies on Sunday afternoon at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, Head Gaucho Baseball Coach Bob Brontsema clinched his 446th career victory in an 11-6 win over San Francisco, passing Al Ferrer as the winningest coach in UCSB baseball history.
“It’s gratifying,” Brontsema said. “It’s a big number, but it’s something I’ll appreciate more when I look back on it. We’re really just trying to get as many wins as we can this season.”
The Gauchos also clinched the series against the University of San Francisco with the win after losing four consecutive games over spring break — including a 6-4 loss in the first game of the series against USF. In spite of the losing streak, the Gauchos went 7-5 in their 12-game homestand, which extended back to March 8 against Waseda. Their overall record improves to 11-8, while USF fell to 12-13.
“We’re getting something going now,” Gaucho junior right fielder Mark Haddow said. “We hit that early season rut, but now we’re starting to get things going again.”
Haddow hit one home run in Sunday’s effort. Senior shortstop Matt Valaika went yard twice, while senior center fielder Gunnar Terhune went three for four with two of UCSB’s four triples, driving in three runs.
“I can’t hit them out of the park, I keep ’em in the park,” Terhune joked. “But it was nice to produce some runs and get some momentum going. It was an opportunity to win the series and we needed some of the older guys to step up.”
Valaika, who was hit in the head by a baseball a few weeks ago, has since struggled at bat after the injury forced him to wear a face mask. He is hitting .279 this season after hitting a team-leading .343 in 2009 .
“He looks like Rip Hamilton,” Terhune said. “He went through a little slump, but he finally started getting used to [the mask] and got everything going.”
UCSB’s offensive surge backed up another solid effort by junior right-hander starting pitcher Jesse Meaux, who earned three runs in seven innings and struck out three. He improved to 4-1 with a 3.34 ERA.
“When both sides [offense and defense] work together, it makes everything a lot easier,” Gaucho junior and ace left-hander Mario Hollands said. “When we have both, we win a series.”
Hollands is referring to the Gauchos’ performance over break, when they were manufacturing some hits but not executing runs, while struggling both with their pitching and their defense. Against New Mexico State in the first game of the series on March 20, Hollands allowed one run and struck out 13 in six innings against an offense that Brontsema believes to be among the top five in the nation.
“Mario’s that rare talent where he can just shut down the offense,” Haddow said.
However, NMSU scored eight runs in the last three innings before the Gauchos managed to scrape by with a 10-9 victory. After hitting 12 runs in each of the next two games against UCSB, NMSU took the series after the Gauchos managed seven runs and five runs, respectively.
“[NMSU] deserved to win those two games. We just couldn’t match what they were producing,” Haddow continued.
On March 23, UCSB lost 7-1 to #6 UCLA, extending its losing streak to three. The loss in the first game of the series against USF was the team’s fourth.
UCSB now has four games before Big West play begins at Cal Poly on April 9. The team begins a three-game series against Sacramento State on April 1 and plays one weekday game against Loyola Marymount at home on April 6.
“We can’t wait for league,” Haddow said. “We’ll be strong.”