None of UCSB’s usual added attractions appealed to Robby Nesovic, a baseball prospect from San Diego, when he toured the campus and Isla Vista. “He hates the beach,” said his girlfriend, Laurelle McVicker. “The sand gets in my eyes,” Nesovic complained. How about the parties? “I’m not much of a party guy.”
Dan Nesovic was disappointed. He had lived in Santa Barbara during the 1970s and delighted in the thought that he might watch his son play baseball here. Now it appeared that Stanford or USC would land the young man, a two-sport star at Grossmont High in San Diego. With a father’s pride, Dan told of how Robby drew double- and triple-teams on the basketball court, how he hit two home runs on consecutive pitches in the same at-bat (a balk call waived off the first dinger), and how he won a pitchers’ duel against Helix High star Jake Reed. “He was called ‘the Assassin,’” Dan said. “He quietly went about his business. He never trash-talked.”
After UCSB hired Andrew Checketts from Oregon to take over the Gaucho baseball program, the new coaching staff made another run at Nesovic. This time it clicked. Checketts had a reputation for working with pitchers — he had recruited Reed to Oregon — and that won Robby over. Forget the parties, the Floatopia and Deltopia: He was coming to Santa Barbara for some Balltopia.
“Robby is a really driven, goal-oriented athlete,” said McVicker, a sophomore at San Diego State. She and Nesovic have been sweethearts since his freshman year in high school. “He’s very quiet. He knows what he wants. But he’s not cocky.” He derived some discipline from the meals served at home. Dan Nesovic worked for diet guru Nathan Pritikin during his Santa Barbara years. “The unhealthiest food I had was high-protein crunch cereal,” Robby said.
The 6’4” and 220-pound right-hander is one of eight freshmen on UCSB pitching roster. Two weeks ago at Cal State Fullerton, Nesovic pitched 6 2/3 innings of a 2-0 shutout of the Titans, the Gauchos’ first victory down south over the Big West Conference juggernaut since 2007. Asked to comment on his performance, Nesovic said, “My defense made great plays behind me.”
The ace of the UCSB’s pitchers this season has been gritty sophomore Austin Pettibone. In the opener of last weekend’s Big West series against Long Beach State, he was staked to a 2-1 lead by shortstop Brandon Trinkwon’s two-run homer in the bottom of the first. Pettibone proceeded to shut down Long Beach’s Dirtbags for the next eight innings, with help from freshman closer Dylan Hecht in the ninth, and the Gauchos escaped with the one-run victory.
Nesovic was in UCSB’s lineup as the designated hitter. He sports the team’s top batting average (.333). “We recruited him mainly as a pitcher, but we gave him a chance to hit in the fall,” Checketts said. “He started annihilating the ball.” Nesovic came through in the second game of the Long Beach series with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth that knotted the score at 4-4. Cameron Newell’s bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Gauchos a 5-4 victory.
UCSB sought to sweep the series with Nesovic on the mound Sunday, but this time he didn’t have it. The Dirtbags raked him for six runs in the third inning. Nesovic started a Gaucho rally in the sixth by slamming his second home run of the season, but they went down to defeat, 8-4.
Still, the Gauchos won the series. They leveled their Big West record at 6-6 and are 20-18 overall. They face five more weekends of conference play. “If we win the rest of our series, we’ll have an argument to get an at-large invitation [to the NCAA postseason],” Checketts said. UC Irvine will be coming to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium for three big games on May 3-5.
GAUCHO ROUNDUP: UCSB’s hopes of repeating its 2011 run to the NCAA men’s volleyball finals were dashed by a first-round playoff loss at UC Irvine (26-24, 22-25, 20-25, 25-19, 15-10). … The sixth annual Gaucho Gallop takes place Saturday, April 27, at Harder Stadium. The event includes a dog dash, 10K race, and 5K run/walk, and an Amazing Race-style team competition. Entry fees will benefit the UCSB Alumni Scholarship Fund. There also will be a free kids’ mile. Information: ucsbruns.com. … The Gallop is part of the All-Gaucho Reunion, a springtime homecoming for alumni and friends of the university. Another sports event will be a softball doubleheader between the Gaucho women and Cal State Northridge beginning at noon Saturday. … The Barber Academic Center at the Intercollegiate Athletics Building will be dedicated Saturday. Jim Barber, a former Gaucho football player, conceived the All-Gaucho Reunion as a member of the Alumni Board. He has continued participating for several years after being diagnosed with ALS.