Tied for the No. 3 spot in the Big West, the UCSB baseball team faces No. 5 UC Irvine this weekend in one of the last three league series of the season. The Gauchos are currently tied with Cal Poly at 9-6 in the Big West and could break into the top three teams in league with a good showing at Irvine.

“It’s not gonna get easier from here on out,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “We have to play quality baseball for the rest of the year.”

The Gauchos match their league record with an impressive 9-6 showing on the road this season, including wins against San Jose State, Fresno State, USC and Pacific. The Anteaters hold a 15-7 home record, and are 8-7 against conference opponents.

UCSB is coming off of a successful 2-1 homestand against UC Davis last weekend, a series which saw the Gauchos win 8-2 in the opener before falling 10-6 in the second game and winning a close 3-2 battle to finish the weekend.

“I thought we bounced back on Sunday after getting smacked around on Saturday,” Checketts said. “Defensively for the most part we played pretty solid. On Sunday we had a million fly balls in the air, we had 13 fly ball outs.”

Flyball outs are some of the easiest outs to manage in baseball, and have been a training point for Checketts and his staff over the past week. “We’ve been spending the week trying to practice getting the ball up the middle of the field and stay out of the air,” Checketts said.

Junior outfielder Brett Vertigan has been able to adopt Checketts’ offensive strategies all year, which has translated into spectacular play at the plate. Vertigan currently leads the Big West with a .377 batting average, 44 runs scored and 69 hits. Vertigan also ranks second in slugging percentage (.519) and on-base percentage (.450) behind UCSB sophomore infielder Brandon Trinkwon (.478).

“[Brett] has been great,”Checketts said. “When he’s on base a bunch we score a lot of runs; when he’s not on base we don’t score a lot of runs. It’s as simple as that.”

Senior outfielder Lance Roenicke is another Gaucho that has shown dramatic improvement on the offensive end. The Chino Hills native is currently hitting .308, good enough for No. 4 on the team, and also ranks second in the conference with 14 doubles.

“He’s a career .190 hitter,” Checketts said. “And now he leads the team in doubles and is [second] in the Big West in doubles. He’s always had the talent but now he’s started to put it together.”

The Anteaters are on a four-game winning streak by a combined run total of 23-9. UC Irvine swept UC Riverside at home last weekend and upset Mountain West opponent San Diego State on the road 6-2 this past week.

First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. this evening at Anteater Ballpark on the UC Irvine campus.