After a solid start to conference play, the UCSB baseball team has jumped to No. 19 in the country and will take a week off from Big West games this weekend as it instead travels to South Carolina to take on No. 24 College of Charleston.
The Gauchos enter the weekend with an overall record of 20-6, 2-1 Big West and they will end their long eight-game road stand after this series.
During this road stretch, Santa Barbara has been less than stellar, posting a 2-3 record in the last five games.
Being one of the best teams in college baseball over the last few weeks, the Cougars host the visiting UCSB squad with an overall record of 20-9, 5-1 Colonial Athletic Association record. They regained a national ranking spot after winning eight of its last 10 games.
College of Charleston has also been a great team at home, registering a 14-4 record, something that has troubled Santa Barbara, which is only 4-5 on the road.
The Cougars can attribute their strong season to their great hitting, outscoring opponents 190-143. In particular, they like getting out to fast starts as they have scored 35 runs in the first inning alone, their most in any inning.
Leading the team is junior Bradley Jones with 27 runs scored, 31 hits, 6 home runs, 21 walks and 9 doubles. Helping lead the charge is redshirt junior catcher Jake Maziar, who leads the team in batting average (.341) and on-base percentage (.472). He also ranks second on the team in hits (29) and RBIs (24).
Another solid hitter is redshirt senior outfielder Morgan Phillips, who leads the team in RBIs (25) and is second in home runs (5).
On the mound for C of C is sophomore reliever pitcher Carter Love, who was recently named the CAA pitcher of the week after 2.1 scoreless innings this past weekend. Love is 2-1 with six saves and a 1.86 ERA on the season.
Love is the third College of Charleston pitcher to win CAA Pitcher of the Week honor this season. Senior right-hander Nathan Helvey won the award the week of March 1, while redshirt sophomore Bailey Ober took home the honor the week of March 8.
The Cougars will have no easy match this week, however, as it welcomes UCSB for a tough three-game series.
The Gauchos are led by many strong players, including redshirt junior Andrew Calica, who ranks first in the Big West in walks (24), second in runs scored (26) and third in on-base percentage (.488).
Two other solid hitters are redshirt sophomore Dempsey Grover and sophomore Austin Bush, who rank eighth and ninth respectively in batting average with .352 and .350, respectively.
On the mound, UCSB has the best pitcher in terms of ERA in the conference in sophomore left-hander Kyle Nelson. The reliever has registered a .65 ERA in 27.2 innings pitched to rank seventh in the nation.
Nelson has struck out 31 batters — third best on his team — and has only allowed 14 hits. He has also limited his opposition to a .146 batting average, which is third best in the Big West.
The Gauchos have a great opportunity to improve its already great record and get more practice before conference play resumes. It will also be interesting to see if they are ready for another challenging team away from home.
UCSB’s next match is against College of Charleston Friday, April 8 at C of C Baseball Stadium at Patriot’s Point at 3 p.m. Saturday’s and Sunday’s games are at 11:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. respectively at the same stadium.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of April 7, 2016’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.