After completing its long eight-game road trip with a 3-4-1 record, the No. 19 UCSB baseball team is ready to be back at home and continue conference play as it takes on CSUN this weekend.
“We are still recovering from traveling cross country.” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “But the guys are definitely excited to get back to conference play.”
The Gauchos host this weekend with an overall record of 21-7-1, and a Big West record of 2-1 which ties them for third in the conference standings. The Matadors come into this game with a solid overall record of 22-10 but a disappointing 1-5 conference record. They have lost six of their last eight games.
“Any team in conference is a quality opponent.” Junior pitcher Shane Bieber said. “We just have to take it slow and keep on playing Gaucho baseball.”
The biggest advantage that UCSB holds this weekend is the fact that it is back to playing at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. It currently boasts a 13-1 home record and has the best winning percentage of any team in the Big West at home.
“Anytime we are in Santa Barbara it feels good. This is a great place.” Checketts said.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the matadors have yet to win a conference game on the road. In order to pull off the upset, CSUN will need to call upon its play that had them start the season 20-4 at one point.
Some of its big time players include junior infielder Fred Smith who leads the team in batting average (.352), hits (50) and at-bats (142).
With six home runs each, senior Brandon Berry and sophomore Albee Weiss are tied for first on the team in home runs and are both tied for second in the Big West conference. Berry also leads the team in RBI (24).
Another big factor going into the series will be pitching, more specifically, for Friday CSUN will hope to see a great start from Kenny Rosenberg. The redshirt sophomore has been on a tear since coming back from his injury last season boasting a 4-1 record.
Rosenberg has registered a 2.68 ERA after allowing 16 runs and 17 hits in over 50 innings pitched. He leads the Big West and is tied for second in the country in strikeouts with 70.
Although the redshirt sophomore has had a solid season, facing the Gauchos is never an easy task. They are led by sophomore Austin Bush who has been having a great season as he leads he team in hits (31), RBI (24), and slugging percentage (.522).
“I have gotten some good hits, clutch hits.” Bush said. “But this is a team and we are all doing great, love these guys.”
Other great hitters for UCSB include redshirt sophomores Josh Adams who is the team’s designated hitter and second baseman J.J Muno. Both players are tied for first on the team in home runs with four.
Another player who looks to have a big Friday night is pitcher Shane Bieber who has been the teams starting Friday pitcher all year, an honor that he has taken great advantage of.
“In the offseason its all our [pitchers] dream to be the Friday pitcher.” Bieber said. “Im very happy to be that guy and I’m glad to have this team take the field with me.”
“He’s very fun to watch.” Checketts added. “He’s always in control of the plate and that is a good quality.”
It makes sense that a pitcher who has great control of the plate would have a solid 6-1 record this season. The right-hander also leads the team in strikeouts with 42 and has the best ERA among starting pitchers on the team with a 3.18.
However, what makes Bieber a true threat is his composure. Three times this year, Bieber has allowed a home run in an early inning, and each time has rallied to pick up a victory for himself and his team.
“I have a great team behind me so I’m always confident.” Bieber said.
Overall, this weekend is another big one for the Gauchos. Winning Big West games is never frowned upon and if they want to continue the great season they are having and hope to win its first Big West championship in a long time, they cannot afford to blow any conference games.
“Our goal is a conference championship.” Checketts said. “we are going to try our hardest to achieve that.”
UCSB’s next game is Friday, April 15th against CSUN at 3 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Saturday’s and Sunday’s game are at the same location but at 2 and 1 p.m. respectively.