May 19, 2009
By Paul Putignano, Signal Staff Writer
It all comes down to one final series. University of California, Santa Barbara is fighting to prolong its season, and senior shortstop and Hart graduate Shane Carlson's collegiate career.
With an outside chance to make the postseason, the Gauchos (28-21, 10-11) face a monumental task in their season-ending three-game series.
They have to beat the nation's No. 1 team - UC Irvine.
"That will be a very big matchup," Carlson says. "We just have to play to our ability. We have a great team, great talent. We have to go out and have fun and play the way we practice and can play. We have to do pretty well these last two weeks to get to the playoffs."
The Anteaters are 40-12 on the season and 20-1 in the Big West Conference under former College of the Canyons head coach Mike Gillespie.
UC Santa Barbara currently sits in a tie for fifth with UC Riverside.
But this season almost didn't take place for Carlson. He was on the verge of taking a step toward his professional career after a junior year that Gauchos head coach and COC hall of famer Bob Brontsema recalls had teams inquiring.
"Last year was just incredible," Brontsema says. "So much so that I'm shocked we had him back for his senior year."
Amassing a .349 average with 53 RBIs, six home runs and 39 runs, both Brontsema and Carlson thought the junior was moving on.
But he wasn't drafted in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.
"He didn't really let on (if he was upset)," Brontsema says. "He's a pretty cool customer anyway. He would shake it, and try not to show much emotion."
This season the numbers are down but Carlson has still been effective, especially considering the fact that he struggled through a rotator cuff strain earlier in the season.
Going into the team's series with UCI, the three-year starter is batting .261 with 33 runs, six home runs and 33 RBIs.
Although the prospect of not getting drafted may have been tough to take, it has given Carlson the opportunity to develop in other areas.
"Over time, he has developed into more of a leader," Brontsema says. "(Carlson) kind of felt his way through the program for a few years. As a senior, (the coaching staff) and his teammates look for him to step forward. We've seen him emerge.
"He is not a demonstrative guy. He is more soft-spoken. It is not like he is grabbing guys by the shirt, `Don't do this. Don't do that.' The younger players look to him."
The extra year has also given him more time to give back, doing such things as donating to the local blood bank and helping out with little league teams in the area.
He has also remained humble.
"One of Shane's humorous claims to fame is that he lost his front tooth (last year)," Brontsema said with a laugh. "So he spent last year with a false tooth - one of those plates. He could remove his tooth and look like someone from the hills. I'm not talking about the TV show. He'd pop that tooth in and out to keep the team loose."
There is little doubt that UCSB will relay on his leadership come Friday as the Anteaters-series begins.
But no matter how the season ends up, Carlson's legacy has been established.
"He is certainly up there," Brontsema says. "Most of the guys we have had have been Hart guys. We've had some guys from Saugus and COC. He is going to rank up there with the career numbers not only with SCV guys but in UCSB guys."
In fact, only four games away from the Gauchos' top 10 in games played, it would take an NCAA Regional berth to cross that threshold.
Only wins over the top team in the country would provide that opportunity.
Yet again, Carlson refuses to let the praise go to his head.
"That is an honor that (Brontsema) would say that," he says. "That is something that doesn't ever cross my mind because I have played with the greats that have crossed this program. I strive to be as good as those before me. I am humbled and try to get better everyday."