It’s getting down to the nitty gritty in the Big West Conference baseball race, and the upcoming four-game series between UC Irvine and host UC Santa Barbara beginning Friday figures to reflect that.
The Anteaters (26-14, 18-6 Big West) and Gauchos (29-13, 20-8) are in a virtual tie for first place. UC Irvine is ranked No. 24 by Baseball America and, even though it is not currently ranked in the top 25, UC Santa Barbara has been there this season.
UCI has 16 conference games remaining to Santa Barbara’s 12.
Anteaters coach Ben Orloff thinks a lot of the Gauchos.
“Yeah, I think this is another team that’s probably better than their record and a lot better than maybe the country realizes they are,” Orloff said.
Orloff noted that Santa Barbara went a combined 58-13 in 2019 and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, winning the conference title in 2019 with a 19-5 record.
“And so I think Santa Barbara’s really one of the top teams in America,” he said. “Their record shows it, their stats show it. They’re really good. They’ve got some old pitchers and it’ll be a challenge.”
Talking about statistics, some of those being put up by Santa Barbara are quite impressive. Freshman Zach Rodriguez is batting .372 with seven home runs and a conference-high 39 RBIs. He has an on-base percentage of .439 and is slugging .593.
“True freshman,” Orloff said of Rodriguez, who broke the school record at Vista Murrieta High with 27 RBIs as a sophomore. “So it’s impressive and whenever you see a freshman doing what he’s doing, you don’t like the fact that you’ve got to play against him for the next two, three years.”
UCI split a four-game series with rival Long Beach State this past weekend, losing the Sunday finale 9-0. But Orloff knows his players have short memories, so he has no concern about them being down heading into this series.
“I think good result, bad result, our kids have been good at moving on to what’s next,” he said. “And I think that there’s a lot of belief in the caliber of 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.
“There’s a lot of belief in our group and I don’t think Sunday changed that.”
Santa Barbara also has the conference ERA and wins leader in sophomore 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 freshman Jordan Sprinkle (18).
McGreevey on Friday struck out a career-high 15 in a 4-1 victory over Cal Poly, earning Pitcher of the Week honors.
UCI also has two Big West leaders – junior Jacob Castro in batting average at .393 and junior Dillon Tatum in home runs with 11.
The Anteaters will start junior Trenton Denholm on Friday, freshman Nick Pinto and sophomore Michael Frias on Saturday and junior Peter Van Loon on Sunday.
This and that
Long Beach State freshman Devereaux Harrison leads the Big West with nine saves. He’s 1-1 with an ERA of 1.59 and has 30 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings covering 12 relief appearances. He does not have enough innings for the Dirtbags (14-13, 12-12) to qualify for ERA leader. …
CSUN (13-15 overall and in Big West) swept Cal State Bakersfield (14-13, 11-9) over the weekend by scores of 9-4, 8-5, 10-2 and 5-1. Junior Blaine Traxel (4-1, 4.35 ERA) pitched a complete-game four-hitter in the Sunday finale. He allowed an unearned run, walked none and struck out six. …
Cal State Fullerton (18-21, 11-9), currently tied with Cal State Bakersfield for third place, needed a good series against Hawaii (23-15, 15-13) this past weekend to remain in contention. But after winning the first game, the Titans dropped the final three to the visitors. …
Junior Nathan Webb has the best power numbers for UC Riverside (13-22, 11-17), with four home runs, 31 RBIs and a .492 slugging percentage.