Coming off a 12-4 letdown against Loyola Marymount this past Tuesday, the Gaucho baseball team opens up Big West conference play with a three-game series at rival Cal Poly this weekend.

“It’s a fresh start,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “You play your [nonconference] schedule to try and prepare yourself to play against some of the best teams in the country.”

The Gauchos have lost three games in a row and sport a 12-11 record heading into conference play, ending their nonconference schedule with a disappointing series loss to Sacramento State before the loss to LMU. Santa Barbara has also lost series to San Jose State, Stanford and New Mexico State, but swept Northern Illinois in a four-game series and took two of three against San Francisco.

Cal Poly has had struggles of its own. A year ago, the Mustangs won 37 games, one game shy of their record as a Division I team, and earned a regional berth and a national ranking on their way to a third-place finish in one of the most competitive baseball conferences in the nation. This season, the Mustangs’ 8-19 start is their worst in ten years. The team has yet to win a weekend series, and they lost two of three in their Big West opening series against UC Riverside.

“They’re usually a very good offensive team,” senior center fielder Gunnar Terhune said. “I’ve heard their pitching this year isn’t as good as it normally is.”

While the Gauchos’ pitching staff owns a 4.69 cumulative ERA, the Mustangs’ staff allows over six runs per nine innings.

Junior left-hander Mario Hollands will start on Friday night, followed by junior right-hander Jesse Meaux on Saturday and junior lefty Nick Capito on Sunday. Hollands comes in with an impressive 3.00 ERA but Capito leads the trio with a 2.89 ERA along with a 4-2 record on the season. The starters have pitched an average of 6.2 innings per outing.

“Our starting pitching has been the most consistent aspect of our game,” Brontsema said. “If we [can keep] getting seven or more innings from them, and if we can close out games, it can be a great year.”

As of late, the Gaucho bullpen has not performed up to the standards of the starting pitching staff. In their loss to LMU, the Gauchos were up 4-0 in the third inning behind junior right-hander Greg Davis’ best start of the season. When Brontsema pulled Davis in the top of the fourth, the bullpen allowed twelve runs.

“We need to pitch better out of the bullpen. We need to be more productive on offense, and we need to play more consistent defense,” Brontsema continued. “Across the board we’ve got things to work on to compete in this league.”

Last season, three Big West teams, including Cal Poly, earned NCAA tournament bids. In a poll of the nine Big West Conference head coaches, Cal Poly was once again predicted to finish third in the conference behind Cal State Fullerton and #21 UC Irvine. The Gauchos were predicted to finish sixth.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to win a Big West championship,” Brontsema said. “It starts this weekend.”