UCSB baseball will continue conference play with a road series at No. 7 Cal State Fullerton this weekend. Fullerton, reigning Big-West champion and the top-ranked team in the league, is currently 5-1 in the Big West.

[media-credit name=”Josh Morton” align=”alignleft” width=”155″][/media-credit] “We see this [series] as an opportunity to elevate our status,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Any time you play someone highly ranked in your conference, you have a chance to make a statement.”

The Gauchos beat Cal Poly in the team’s first series of Big West play last weekend. After losing the first game of the series, UCSB was able to take the final two, including a 13-inning finish in the third game. Junior right-hander Matt Vedo held Cal Poly to five hits in seven innings in the final game and struck out five batters as well.

“Our bullpen has been phenomenal,” senior left-handed pitcher Nick Capito said. “We got great effort from Vedo on Sunday.”

Fullerton swept UC Davis in its first Big West series by a combined score of 25-2 throughout the three games. The Titans then took a series 2-1 against No. 17 UC Irvine last weekend. Fullerton is 12-3 at home this season, and 2-1 at home during Big West play.

“It’s a huge advantage for them,” Brontsema said. “Any time you’re playing at home is an advantage. It’s a great environment and a hostile crowd.”

Part of Fullerton’s success is its pitching staff, led by junior right-hander Noe Ramirez. Ramirez struck out nine batters in 7.2 innings against UC Irvine in a winning effort for the Titans, and leads the Big West in batters struck out with 64.

“We know they’re going to throw strikes but we have to be the aggressor,” Capito said. “We’re going have to work the counts and try to get on base any way we can … whether it’s hit by pitches or laying down bunts.”

Pitching against Ramirez for the Gauchos will be senior right-hander Jesse Meaux. Meaux has been finishing his starts early in recent games, averaging five innings per start in his last three outings.

“[Meaux] is a Friday night guy,” Brontsema said. “It’s a tough role. I expect Jesse to continue to compete and throw strikes.”

Fullerton’s offense has proven to be just as dominant as its pitching, with individual Titans leading the conference in several categories. Junior first baseman Nick Ramirez is first in the Big West in home runs  (four) and RBI (25). Closely following Ramirez is UCSB senior right fielder Mark Haddow, who is second to Ramirez in RBI totals with 23 and has gotten at least one hit in 12 of his past 14 games, hitting .377 during that time.

“[Haddow] is taking advantage of his experience and putting together a great year,” Brontsema said. “He knows what to expect and knows what coaches want.”

The series will begin tonight at 7 p.m. at Goodwin Field on the Cal State Fullerton campus.