Crunch time in the Big West Conference baseball race is approaching, and the four-game series between UC Irvine and hosts UC Santa Barbara starting Friday is a reflection of this.
The anteaters (26-14 total, 18-6 Big West) and gauchos (29-13, 20-8) are in a virtual tie for first place. UCI is ranked 24th by Baseball America and while it is not currently ranked in the top 25, UCSB has been there this season.
Anteater trainer Ben Orloff is a fan of gauchos.
“I think this is another team that is probably better than their record and a lot better than the country may realize,” said Orloff, whose team has 16 conference games left against UCSB’s 12.
Orloff noted that UCSB reached 58-13 in 2019 and the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic, and won the conference title in 2019 with a 19-5 record.
“And that’s why I think Santa Barbara is really one of the best teams in America,” he said. “Your balance sheet shows it, your statistics show it. You are really good. You have a few old jugs and it will be a challenge. ”
Statistically, UCSB is pretty impressive. Freshman Zach Rodriguez beats .372 with seven home runs and a conference high of 39 RBIs. It has an on-base percentage of .439 and sluging .593.
“A real newbie,” said Orloff of Rodriguez, who broke the school record at Vista Murrieta High with 27 RBIs in his sophomore year. “So it’s impressive and when you see a newbie doing what he does, you don’t like the fact that you have to play him for the next two or three years.”
UCI split a streak of four games with rivals Long Beach State over the weekend, losing 9-0 in Sunday’s final. But Orloff knows its players have short memories, so he’s not worried about them going into that streak .
“I think good result, bad result, our kids were good at going on,” he said. “And I think there is a lot of confidence in the caliber of the team that we are and what we can do, and we haven’t had a series loss in two months (mid-March against Stanford), I don’t think so.
“There is a lot of trust in our group and I don’t think Sunday changed that.”
UCSB also has the Conference ERA, winning the sophomore leader Rodney Boone (8-2, 2.47), the strikeouts leader in junior Michael McGreevey (6-1, 2.76 ERA, 85 Ks) and the stolen bases leader in the freshman Jordan Sprinkle (18).
McGreevey hit a career high of 15 in a 4-1 win over Cal Poly on Friday and was honored with the Big West Pitcher of the Week.
UCI also has two Big West leaders – Junior Jacob Castro in the batting average (.393) and Junior Dillon Tatum in home runs (11).
The anteaters will start Junior Trenton Denholm on Friday, newcomer Nick Pinto and Michael Frias in their second year in the double header on Saturday and Junior Peter Van Loon on Sunday.
THIS AND THAT
Long Beach State freshman Devereaux Harrison leads the Big West with nine parades. He is 1-1 with an ERA of 1.59 and has 30 strikeouts in 22-2 / 3 innings that cover 12 relief appearances. He doesn’t have enough innings for the dirt bags (14-13, 12-12) to qualify for the ERA leader. …
CSUN (13-15 overall and in Big West) swept Cal State Bakersfield (14-13, 11-9) over the weekend with 9-4, 8-5, 10-2 and 5-1. Junior Blaine Traxel (4-1, 4.35 ERA) threw a four-hitter for a full game in the Sunday finals. He allowed an undeserved run, did not go and hit six. …
Cal State Fullerton (18-21, 11-9), currently tied for third place with Cal State Bakersfield, needed a good run against Hawaii (23-15, 15-13) last weekend to stay competitive. But after winning the first game, the Titans dumped the last three on the visiting warriors. …
Junior Nathan Webb has the best power numbers for UC Riverside (13-22, 11-17), with four home runs, 31 RBIs, and a .492 slug percentage.