With just four games left on the regular season schedule, the UCSB baseball team is ready to make its final push for the playoffs. This afternoon the Gauchos will hit the road to take on No. 11 UCLA. The two teams locked up previously this year back on Feb. 26, when the Bruins crushed the Gauchos 12-3.
With the season nearing the end, every game counts; the Gauchos, sitting at 31-22 and 14-10 in the Big West Conference, need each and every win.
“UCLA is a big game for us,” senior third baseman Marc Venning said. “It’s a chance to raise our RPI potentially and hopefully get us a regional bid. We need to come out focused and play Gaucho baseball and come out with a win.”
UCLA now sits at 37-15 and is 20-7 in the Pac 12 this year in a tie with Oregon for second place.
The Gauchos will visit UCLA for the first time this year after the first meeting took place in Santa Barbara. This is the final home game for the Bruins in the regular season, where they are 23-9 on their home field. Despite their stellar record, however, UCLA has lost its last two matchups with Big West opponents.
On May 7, Cal State Northridge defeated the Bruins in Los Angeles 4-1, and on May 14, Cal State Fullerton, the No. 1 team in the Big West, defeated UCLA 5-2. Excluding those two losses to Big West opponents, UCLA has crushed its competition in the Pac 12 as of late.
The Bruins have swept their last three series against conference opponents, defeating USC, Arizona and Utah the last three weekends and have gone on to now win six consecutive weekend series.
The Gauchos are seemingly just as hot. UCSB has won its last five weekend series with Big West opponents, the last coming against Pacific this last weekend.
Today in Los Angeles, freshman pitcher Justin Jacome is slated to take the mound. Jacome, in his last outing, returned from a severe ankle sprain and impressed. He threw six-and-a-third strong innings, allowing just one run on seven hits, earning his fifth victory this season.
“This is a big game for us,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “We’ve got Jacome going and probably we will see some of our other regular weekend starters available, too, since it’s like do or die at this point.”
Backing Jacome will be a Gaucho offense that has found its stride after some lineup tweaks. The supporting cast around standouts junior shortstop Brandon Trinkwon and sophomore first baseman Tyler Kuresa have really begun to produce.
Junior left fielder Joey Epperson has taken hold of the leadoff position and is hitting .320 since April 16, scoring 18 runs over that 19 game span.
Sophomore center fielder Cameron Newell, who Epperson replaced at the top of the order, has also thrived moving into the more RBI friendly positions around the five hole. Newell is hitting .425 since April 16 and has driven in 12 runs.
The new number three hitter in the lineup, sophomore second baseman Woody Woodward, has also seen his production increase. Since April 16, he is hitting .307 with 12 runs scored and 17 RBI.
Epperson, Newell and Woodward also have all had hitting streaks of 13, 12 and 13 games respectively over the last month, a large reason the team has seen such success as of late.
The hot-hitting Gauchos will be at Jackie Robinson Stadium tonight with first pitch against UCLA set for 6 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of May 21, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of The Daily Nexus.