The Long Beach State baseball team will face its toughest road test of the season when it heads to No. 16 UC Santa Barbara for a three-game series starting Friday night.
LBSU (12-8) is 11-10 against the Gauchos (17-6) over the past seven seasons. However, it is just 1-3 on the road this season and 1-3 against ranked opponents.
The Dirtbags will move away from the comfort of Blair Field, where they have an 11-5 record. The Gauchos are also thriving at home with an 11-4 mark. League games determine conference tournament seeding and which teams advance to the NCAA Regionals, one of the reasons the Dirtbags put a greater emphasis on Big West matchups.
“Every loss is worth two losses in conference,” sophomore shortstop Garett Hampson said. “So the atmosphere is going to amp up a little bit.”
Hampson leads the team offensively with a .307 batting average and 23 hits. He is also 9-11 on stolen bases this season.
The bats have been quiet overall for the Dirtbags. They are last in the conference in hits and batting average, and head coach Troy Buckley said they need to be more consistent with attacking the ball.
“We have to improve the quality of our at-bats and bunting game,” Buckley said.
Pitching remains the focal point for the Dirtbags’ success so far. They have allowed the fewest hits in the conference and rank fifth in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings.
Freshmen righty Chris Mathewson is making his presence known with two game winning pinch hits this season and a combined thrown no-hitter. He said it’s all about staying confident when you’re up there on the mound or plate.
“It’s exciting and fun,” Mathewson said. “I still have to keep working on pounding the zone and [keeping the ball] down.”
The Gauchos are on a four-game winning streak and are coming off an impressive 18-4 win over Loyola Marymount University. Head coach Andrew Checketts enters his fourth year as their head coach.
They lead the Big West offensively with a .307 batting average and .397 on base percentage. Senior outfielder Cameron Newell and junior infielder Robby Nesovic are making the most noise for the Gauchos at the plate.
Newell leads the team with 13 walks and is second in hits with 33. Nesovic is posting a team best .400 batting average to go along with 34 hits and 23 RBI.
“They got some power so it will be a good test for our arms,” Buckley said.
The Gauchos are proving to be a balanced team with quality pitching to back up their hitting. They rank seventh in the nation with a 2.24 ERA and are second in the Big West in hits allowed.
Junior righty Dillon Tate is their most impressive starting pitcher with a 1.69 ERA and a 10.34 K average per game. Junior lefty Domenic Mazza has been solid as well with a 1.78 ERA and 8.17 K average per game.
The first pitch is set for 3 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka stadium.