The No. 13 UCSB baseball team will have a shot of redemption against Big West powerhouse Cal State Fullerton this weekend at home after losing four of its last six games.
UCSB is 20-7 on the season and 2-4 in the Big West, stuck in a three-way tie for sixth place going into the matchup. Santa Barbara has had a rough start to conference play, losing back-to-back series for the first time since 2012. CSUF enters with a No. 19 ranking, 17-11 overall after yesterday’s win against UCLA, and 2-1 record in league.
“We’re going to have to pitch and play defense; they throw the ball well and they got three quality starters,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “Their pitching is pretty good so we’re going to have to match them on the mound and play defense.”
The Gauchos welcome a return home after their first Big West road trip of the season against Cal Poly resulted in two losses. UCSB has lost just three times in 15 games at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium while the Titans have been inconsistent on the road with a 5-6 record.
Fullerton will have to zone in on certain batters to contain UCSB. In his senior year for the Gauchos, infielder/outfielder Joey Epperson has been leading the way. Epperson is hitting a Big West high .462 clip to go along with a .615 slugging percentage. Junior first baseman Tyler Kuresa has eight dingers and junior infielder Peter Maris has 14 stolen bases, each a conference best.
Santa Barbara, as a whole, has been extremely productive on offense despite it not translating to wins; the team leads the Big West in many statistical categories. UCSB has the fewest strikeouts, highest slugging percentage, batting average, home runs and stolen bases.
“We have a lot of different ways we can threaten you,” Checketts said. “We’ve shown more power this year which is nice, we’ve got some execution guys that can hit-and-run, and then we have pretty much most of the lineup that can run.”
In its last series, the bullpen for UCSB came up huge when its starting pitching failed to get deep into games. In 4.1 innings of combined work, junior Greg Mahle kept UCSB in contention in two appearances in the series and came away with a win in the opening game to improve to 5-1 on the season.
UCSB will send out junior pitcher Austin Pettibone to start game one and freshman Shane Bieber on Saturday, while Sunday’s starter is yet to be announced. The Gauchos will need more innings out of its starters after its relief pitchers were heavily used last weekend.
“The longer starters go, the less wear and tear the bullpen will have,” junior pitcher Andrew Vasquez said. “The bullpen is huge; it keeps us in games. The starters give us a chance to win, and the bullpen makes sure we still have a chance to win.”
Cal State Fullerton may not have the same offensive numbers as the Gauchos but their games have resulted in wins, in part to its dominant pitching. CSUF has the lowest ERA in the conference at 2.05 and has the second highest rate of strikeouts per game at 8.33.
“It’s a big series but every conference series is a big series,” Vasquez said. “We’ll treat it the same way we treat every other series.”
First pitch for Friday’s game is at 3 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on pages 1 and 6 of April 10, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.