June 1, 2004

UC Santa Barbara Baseball Posts Best Season In Three Years

June 1, 2004

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With a final regular season record of 33-21, UC Santa Barbara captured a winning season for the first time since 2001 and posted the sixth best winning percentage by a Gaucho squad since joining the Big West. UCSB's 2004 season, which ended on May 23, was highlighted by an eight and a nine game winning streak, a handful of shattered school records and three All-Big West Conference honorees. The team's .611 winning percentage was aided in part by a shocking conference sweep of Long Beach State on the road, a thrilling come-from-behind win over eventual conference champion Cal State Fullerton and a wild offensive explosion which saw the Gauchos score a near-record 31 runs.

UC Santa Barbara's 10-11 finish in Big West play left them in a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference with Cal Poly and eventual NCAA Tournament qualifier UC Irvine. The Big West finish is the best for UCSB since 2001 when the Gauchos finished at 12-6, good for second place.

On May 25, the conference announced that Santa Barbara's stand-out freshman shortstop Chris Valaika had been awarded the Big West's first ever Conference Freshman Player of the Year award after the Newhall, California, native exploded for one of the most impressive rookie campaigns ever by a Gaucho. On that same day, junior second baseman Chris Malec received First Team All-Big West honors and junior relief pitcher Alex McRobbie received honorable mention accolades. Along with his rookie of the year honor, Valaika was also named Second Team All-Big West, as well.

In UCSB's lopsided 31-3 win over Cornell on March 25, the Gauchos set new school records for RBI (30), defensive assists (22) and walks received (13) as well tallying season highs for runs, hits (27), doubles (6), home runs (4), total bases (45) and stolen bases (6). Ironically, a week later in its 15-7 victory over Loyola Marymount, UCSB again set a new school record by collecting15 bases on balls. On May 7 against Cal State Northridge, the Gauchos stranded a school record 19 runners on base.

The Gauchos began their 2004 campaign at Tony Gwynn Stadium where they took two of three games from San Diego State in the season's opening series. In the finale against the Aztecs, sophomore right-hander Michael Martin began what would eventually be the winningest season by a Gaucho hurler since 2001 with a combined three-hit shutout. Martin would go on to win eight more games and finish with a team-best 9-4 record in 16 starts.

UCSB buoyed around the .500 mark until mid-March while facing formidable non-conference opponents such as San Jose State, Pepperdine, Fresno State, UCLA and New Mexico. Heading into its five-game series against Cornell over spring break, the Gauchos carried a 12-10 record.

Then Santa Barbara turned on the heat and strung together a series of nine consecutive victories, the longest such streak since 1990. Five wins against visiting Cornell, one over Loyola Marymount and a three-game sweep at Sacramento State rounded out the run.

Entering Big West play with a 20-10 mark, UCSB finally fell to No. 10 UC Irvine as the two squads kicked off the conference schedule at Anteater Ballpark in mid-April. After losing two of three to UCI, the Gauchos returned home only to be swept by UC Riverside in three games. Then after losing the next weekend's first two games to Cal State Fullerton, the Gauchos found themselves mired in a five game losing skid.

But UCSB scored eight runs in the eighth to complete a 14-7 win over Fullerton in the finale and then exploded against Long Beach State the next weekend to complete one of the biggest upsets in the country against Jered Weaver and the Dirtbags. After Malec's eighth-inning, game-tying grand slam against the highly-recruited Weaver, UCSB went on to win 8-4 in the opener, 6-2 in game two, and 5-4 in the finale. The next weekend's sweep of Cal State Northridge and a mid-week victory over Pepperdine extended the Gauchos' winning streak to eight games.

Santa rounded out the 2004 season by winning two of its last six against conference opponents Pacific and Cal Poly.

Senior Greg Powers helped UCSB score a whopping 438 runs, nearly twice as many as the 2003 Gauchos, as he hit .349, scored 41 runs and drove in 41 RBI. Valaika, finished with a .347 mark and also led the team with 15 doubles, 77 hits, a freshman record, and 119 total bases. His seven home runs were two behind team leaders junior Matt Wilkerson and senior Taylor Vogt. Senior third baseman Nate Sutton led the squad with a career-high 27 stolen bases and UCSB's team .974 fielding percentage was also a new school record.

On the mound, UCSB's bullpen posted an impressive 3.33 ERA, led by McRobbie, junior right-hander Loren Fraser and senior southpaw Ivan Ramirez.

The Gauchos said good-bye to seven seniors upon the completion of the 2004 campaign. Sutton, Vogt, Powers, Ramirez, Brian Adams, Rich Sorenson and Aaron Jones all played their final games in Gaucho uniforms last month.

Head Coach Bob Brontsema completed his eleventh full season as head coach with the third-most winning season of his career. His coaching record now stands at 296-290.