The UCSB baseball team will look to regain confidence after a tough loss to St. Mary’s Tuesday when it travels to San Diego for the inaugural Tony Gwynn Classic.
“We got some great leadership that will help us bounce back.” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said.
Santa Barbara heads into the tournament with a solid 4-1 overall record while its first round opponent, Kentucky, has a 2-1 record going into the weekend. Other teams the Gauchos could face is San Diego State who has struggled mustering only a 1-4 record and Bryant University who is currently perfect at 4-0.
“This will be a good test for us, a solid tournament to show our stuff.” Checketts said.
For the first time this season, fans will be able to witness how UCSB will bounce back after a tough loss on Tuesday. The game against St. Mary’s could have been about fatigue considering it was the Gauchos fifth game in five days.
“Five games in five days was tough for our team.” Checketts said “This three game series will go much better.”
Now coming into the weekend with a solid three-day rest, Santa Barbara should be able to show the same intensity it showed in its first series of the season. It will also be interesting to see if the young team will be able to overcome early adversity.
“We are going to respond the right way. That loss was not the end of the world.” Redshirt junior Andrew Calica said. “This team is young and motivated, we will be ready.”
The Gauchos are led by redshirt sophomore J.J Muno who leads the team in hits with eight and RBI with six. The young second baseman has been the most consistent Gaucho having at least one hit in every game this season. Calica also comes in hot hitting 7-14 in his last four games.
Santa Barbara also found out it can count on redshirt sophomore catcher Dempsey Grover. In Tuesday’s outing he hit 3-5 and batted in a runner. He currently leads the team in batting average with a .429 BA.
Another interesting thing to keep note of this weekend will be the line-up changes made by coach Checketts. In all five games this season only Calica has stayed in the same batting position as the lead-off hitter, the rest have all been moved to see what line-up works best.
“We still got a lot of moving parts.” Checketts said. “As we get further into the season we will get more answers but for now we just want to see guys play their way into the line-up.”
UCSB is slated to start Shane Bieber against the Wildcats. The junior won his first game of the season after pitching seven solid innings allowing seven hits and two runs while also striking out four. Against UK last year, Bieber pitched eight innings allowing only one run and nine hits.
“As a group we need to throw more strikes and be more aggressive.” Checketts said. “I’d like to see Bieber, Nelson, Garcia, Davis all do good.”
The Gauchos will face a Kentucky team that is coming off a 15-run, 20-hit, seven homerun performance in its last outing against Dayton. Early in the year, the Wildcats are sporting the highest slugging percentage (.728) and most home runs (10) to start a season in school history.
UK is led by junior Javon Shelby. Shelby leads UK and the SEC with a .667 batting average to start to the year, with six of his eight hits going for extra bases, adding six runs, two homers and three RBI.
Another strong hitter for Kentucky is freshman Tristan Pompey who is second on the team in batting average with a .500 BA. The SEC freshman of the opening week of the season also leads the team in homeruns with three.
The Gauchos will be facing right-hander Zach Brown who is currently 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. The junior had a tough opening day start against Wofford allowing nine hits and three runs in just 3.2 innings of work. His second opponent won’t be any easier as the Gauchos are batting a solid .353 as a team this season.
If UCSB is able to pull off the win Friday, then it will face the winner of Bryant University and San Diego State. Bryant seems to be one of the most formidable opponents in this tournament as they are the only undefeated team.
If it wins both games, Santa Barbara will then go into the championship round and play either Arizona, Nebraska, Tulane and/or University of San Diego.
“This is going to be a good tournament; we can’t underestimate anybody.” Calica said. “We have to come out with the fire we had on opening weekend.”
UCSB’s next game is Friday, February 26th at 1 p.m. in San Diego, California for the Tony Gwynn Classic against Kentucky at Tony Gwynn Stadium.