UCSB Takes Season-Best Four-Game Win Streak Into Series With No. 20 UC Irvine
Games No. 35-37
Friday, April 20 - 2:00 p.m. (PDT)
Saturday, April 21 - 1:00 p.m. (PDT)
Sunday, April 22 - 1:00 p.m. (PDT)
UCSB vs. UC Irvine
at UCSB's Caesar Uyesaka Stadium
The Gaucho Record
UC Santa Barbara enters the weekend with an overall record of 16-18 and a Big West mark of 4-2. With their three-game sweep of visiting Pacific over the weekend and their 15-9 non-conference victory over Westmont on Tuesday, the Gauchos have put together their longest winning streak of the season and have now won five out of their last six contests, including four of five in league play. The four out of five run has moved UCSB into a four-way tie for second-place in the Big West standings. The Gauchos, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State are all 4-2 and UC Riverside is 2-1. Everyone trails first-place Cal Poly, which is 7-2 in the Big West.
Gauchos Hope To Continue Getting Healthy At Home
After playing eight of nine games on the road, UCSB returned home hoping to get back on-track and it has. The Gauchos' three-game sweep of Pacific and win over Westmont not only improved their overall record to 16-18 and their Big West record to 4-2, but pushed them into positive territory in home contests at 12-9, as well. Santa Barbara will play three more home games before heading out on the road for six in a row.
On Friday, Big West play resumes for the Gauchos with a three-game series against UC Irvine. The Anteaters have a 5-4 league record, 1.5 games behind the second-place pack. UCI, however, has been nationally-ranked most of the season and has a 26-10-1 overall record. The Anteaters are currently ranked 20th in the nation. Last weekend, they dropped two out of three home games to Cal Poly, but rebounded on Tuesday with a win over USC. UCI has been solid offensively and on the mound. As a team, the Anteaters are batting .311, have 226 runs scored, and have stolen 84 bases. Their team earned run average is 3.85. Individually, left fielder Matt Morris is batting .365 with four home runs and 29 RBI. Second baseman Cody Cipriano is batting .322 with team-leading eight home runs. Overall, the Anteaters have eight regulars batting over .300. On the mound, they are paced by junior right hander Wes Etheridge who is 9-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Reliever Blair Erickson has a 0-0 record, but has a league-leading 11 saves. In fact, on Saturday against Cal Poly, he saved the 50th game of his career, setting a new NCAA record. Erickson also picked up a save in Tuesday's win over USC.
The Week That Was
UCSB swept Pacific in a three-game weekend series. On Friday, the Gauchos fell behind 2-0 in the top of the first inning, but then scored the game's next 13 runs to take a commanding 13-2 lead. The Tigers scored seven runs over the final two innings to make it closer, but UCSB held on. Chuck Huggins went 5.0 innings and allowed two runs to secure his fifth win of the year and Mario Lewis homered and drove in three to lead the offense. Patrick Rose also had three hits and three runs scored. In game two of the series, the Gauchos piled-up a 7-1 lead, but Pacific scored three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to tie it at 7-7. An RBI single by Mike Zuanich broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth and then relievers Kyle Brown and Justin Segal combined for three innings of hitless relief as Santa Barbara won 8-7. In Sunday's series finale, UCSB won 5-2 as senior right hander Jeff Braun posted his first win of the season by hurling 6.0 innings and allowing just one run. Segal had another save. Offensively, Chris Fox had three hits and was one of three Gauchos to belt a home run. First baseman Robbie Blauer and Lewis also homered. It was the fourth straight game in which Lewis hit a round tripper. On Tuesday, despite committing four errors and allowing six unearned runs, the Gauchos were able to hold off Westmont in a non-conference game, 15-9. UCSB had four players with three hits in the game as it collected 19 hits overall. Kyle Brown pitched two scoreless innings of relief to earn the win.
Junior left hander Chuck Huggins will put his 5-0 record on the line in game one of the series with UC Irvine this weekend. He also leads UCSB with a 3.40 earned run average. Freshman right hander Mike Ford will start on Saturday and senior southpaw Jeff Braun will get the nod in Sunday's series finale. Ford is 1-1 on the season with a 6.07 ERA. He pitched one perfect inning in Tuesday's win over Westmont. Braun earned his first win of the season in Sunday's series finale against Pacific.
Potential Starters - Notes
C/DH - Matt Anderson - Ended a 1-for-12 run by going 2-for-4 vs. Westmont.
C - Chris McMurray - Has thrown out 20 of 42 would-be base stealers this season.
1B - Robbie Blauer - Has whiffed just six times in 159 plate appearances.
2B - Matt Valaika - Has gone 7-for-14 in four games back from collar bone injury.
3B - Patrick Rose - Has gone 7-for-15 with six runs scored and three RBI in last four.
SS - Shane Carlson - Did not play vs. Westmont on Tuesday, his first DNP of the season.
LF - Mike Zuanich - Is tied for the team-lead with 25 runs scored.
CF - Chris Fox - Has gone 10-for-16, .625, with six runs and five RBI in last four games.
RF - Mario Lewis - Had his streak of four straight games with a HR ended on Tuesday.
DH - Cody Dee - Has had seven hits in 11 at bats over the last three games.
The Bob Brontsema File
2007 marks the 26th year of head coach Bob Brontsema's involvement in the UCSB baseball program. He is now in his 14th season as head coach, after ten years as an assistant and two as a player. Brontsema's career record is 364-366-2 (.498). He has been selected Big West Coach of the Year twice, in 1996 when he guided the Gauchos to a 32-20 record and an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament, and in 2001, when he led the team to a 40-17 mark and another NCAA Tournament berth. The .702 winning percentage in 2001 ranks third highest in school history. In 2004, Brontsema's Gauchos posted the second most overall wins in his career as head coach, going 33-21. Milestone dates in his coaching career include April 27, 1997, marking his 100th career win with a 16-4 victory over the University of Pacific and April 7, 2001, that saw him earn career win number 200 with a 7-2 victory over UC Riverside. The 6-1 victory over San Jose State on Feb. 13, 2005 marked yet another milestone for Brontsema, career win number 300. Victory number 344, which pushed him past Dave Gorrie and into the No. 2 spot in career wins, came May 12, 2006 in an 8-6 win over Long Beach State.
Brontsema Moves Up
Head coach Bob Brontsema enters the series against UC Irvine with 146 coaching victories in Big West Conference play. The 146 wins puts him three ahead of UNLV's Fred Dallimore for fifth on the league's all-time list. Brontsema would then need 20 more league wins to catch former Cal State Fullerton head coach Augie Garrido.
First baseman Robbie Blauer continues to be UCSB's offensive leader. Although he has gone 2-for-8 over the last three games, he is still batting a team-high .391. Not only does Blauer enter the series against UC Irvine as the team-leader in batting average, he also paces the Gauchos in hits (52), doubles (nine), RBI (28), on-base percentage (.491) and walks (24). He opened the year by hitting in the first 23 games, extending a two-season hitting streak to 24 in a row. Blauer has now hit in 31 of 34 games this season and has had more than one hit 14 times. Even more impressively, he has only struck out a total of just six times in 2007 -- the fewest on the squad among players who have at least 20 at bats. Blauer leads the team with 159 plate appearances and yet he ranks 14th in srikeouts. In fact, the only non-pitchers on the roster who have struck out fewer times are Clayton Shank, Scott Cohen and Austin Hogans and they have combined for just 32 plate appearances.
Crazy Like A Fox
Junior center fielder Chris Fox is a big part of the reason that the Gauchos have won four straight and five out of their last six. On April 5, Fox saw his batting average dip to .284 when he went 0-for-3 in a game against UC Riverside. He has since hit in six straight games and lifted his average to .328. In the last six, Fox has gone 13-of-26, .500, with seven runs scored, seven RBI, a triple and a pair of home runs. Over that same span, he has walked twice and been hit by a pitch, giving him an on-base percentage of .552. Fox has three hits seven times this season, including each of the last two games and three of the last four games. He has also moved into a tie with Mike Zuanich for the team lead in runs scored with 25. Finally, Fox also paces the Gauchos in stolen bases. He has stolen 12 in 15 attempts in 2007, including one in each of the last three games, and he has not been thrown out stealing in his last nine tries.
Everybody Needs A Huggins Now And Then
Junior lefty Chuck Huggins will make his third straight Friday start against UC Irvine. A transfer from Trinity College, Huggins came out of the bullpen in his first nine appearances this season. On Mar. 15, he made his first start and has been a staple in the rotation ever since. He enters the week with a perfect 5-0 record and a team-leading 3.40 earned run average. He has started five games, going 3-0, and has tossed at least five innings in each of his five starts. Huggins is the only active pitcher on the staff with more than one win and is one of only three pitchers on the squad that has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. He has given up 27 hits in 39.2 innings. The only chink in Huggins' armor has been control. He has allowed 33 walks on the season, including 23 in his five starts, a period of 28 innings. Over that same span he has recorded 23 strikeouts. Huggins will start Friday's series-opener with UC Irvine.
Rank And File
UCSB has played 13 of its 34 games this season against teams that either are or have been ranked at one point. The Gauchos played four games against Pepperdine, three against Hawaii and three at TCU in addition to their league games against Riverside. Things don't ease-up much in the future either. UCSB still has three game sets with Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach State and Cal Poly, and a pair of games against USC. By season's end, Santa Barbara will have played a minimum of 27 games against nationally ranked opponents.
Freshman second baseman Matt Valaika returned to action in the first game of the Pacific series. Valaika missed eight games with an injured collar bone and in those eight games the Gauchos went 1-7. The native of Valencia, Calif., and brother of former UCSB star Chris Valaika, didn't skip a beat upon his return. Valaika has hit in all four games since coming back, going 7-for-14 over that span. In addition, he has had a double, a triple, scored four runs and driven in six. On Tuesday against Westmont, Valaika had the first three-hit game of his career, going 3-for-4 with a double, three RBI and a pair of runs scored. In the past four games, he has improved his batting average from .217 to .258.
Senior right fielder Mario Lewis entered UCSB's April 7 game at UC Riverside with one home run on the season. Now, five games later, he leads the team with five. Lewis belted a grand slam homer in the game at Riverside and then hit one in each of the games against Pacific. Although he did not hit a round-tripper in Tuesday's game against Westmont, he did tie the school record for home runs in consecutive games at four. In 1986, Vince Teixeira also hit home runs in four straight games. Lewis has hit in six consecutive games (7-for-22) and in those six games he has collected 12 RBI and seven runs scored. Overall, he is now hitting .273.
Segal Should Take The Fifth
Senior relief ace Justin Segal collected saves in two of UCSB's three wins over Pacific last weekend. He now has six on the season and 13 in his career, fourth on the all-time list. Segal needs just one more save to move into a tie with Butch Seuberth (1986-87) for third on the all-time list. The all-time leaders, Alex McRobbie and John Minton, each had 16. In his last five outings, Segal has pitched 10.0 innings and allowed just four hits, no earned runs, one walk and he has struck out 10. Over that span, he has lowered his earned run average from a season-high of 5.06 to a solid 3.72.
Braun Is On
Senior lefty Jeff Braun returned to the starting rotation on Sunday against Pacific and had his best outing of the season. Braun, who was winless entering the game, hurled 6.0 innings and allowed one run on seven hits. He did not walk a batter and recorded three strikeouts. In his last two appearances, Braun has gone 7.1 innings and allowed just the one run. His performance against Pacific was reminiscent of 2006 when he went 2-2 with a 3.11 ERA.