Going into the 2019 season, the UCSB baseball team had not won a Big West Championship for 30 years, but the Gauchos have quickly become accustomed to lifting that once elusive trophy.
After Saturday’s conference-clinching victory over UC Riverside, the Gauchos have now won two of the last three Big West Championships and show no signs of slowing down going into the final series of the regular season at Cal State Bakersfield this weekend.
“They’ve had a heck of a run,” said head coach Andrew Checketts of his team just moments before he was drenched by Gatorade in celebration on Saturday. “Three really good seasons with a chance to win 40 games.”
The Gauchos have also not lost a series the entire season, a feat that perhaps no other team in the country can boast.
Despite the recent success, the 2022 Big West Championship is only the fifth title in program history, which points to this being a golden era of UCSB baseball.
“For a program that didn’t win the conference for 30 years until my freshman year, and now we’ve got two in three years, it’s amazing,” said UCSB junior outfielder Christian Kirtley, a stalwart hitter in the middle of the lineup. “But this is only step one.”
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According to Checketts, the next step is building momentum over the last series of the season before matching up against some of the top teams in the country at NCAA regionals.
The Gauchos have struggled, however, in non-conference games. Much of that can be attributed to inconsistency in the bullpen. UCSB’s top three starting pitchers ― Cory Lewis, Michael Gutierrez, and Ryan Gallagher ― have a combined win/loss record of 22-1 this season.
“Our bullpen throwing strikes has been an issue all year,” Checketts said. “Going into the weekend, we were leading the conference in ERA but second to last in walks per nine innings, and I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that.”
Will the Gauchos suddenly be able to throw strikes out of the bullpen against some of the best teams in the country? That question that will likely decide their fate when postseason play begins.
UCSB last won an NCAA regional title and advanced to the College World Series during their memorable run in 2016 that was highlighted by clutch moments, heroic performances, and edge-of-your-seat nail-biters.
Catching lightning in a bottle again will be a tall task. In order to win the title, a team must first make the field of 64. The Gauchos have done so in six of Checketts’s 11 seasons at the helm, which is no small feat.
“We’ve had some big weekends where we’ve scored a lot of runs, but for the most part we’ve been in close games a lot this year,” said Checketts following UCSB’s 9-8 victory over UC Riverside on Friday night. “I think they’re accustomed to being in close games.”
After the three-game series with Cal State Bakersfield, the Gauchos will find out their NCAA tournament regional on Selection Sunday.
Westmont Advances to NAIA Baseball World Series
The brackets have been released for the 2022 Avista NAIA Baseball World Series, and Westmont received the sixth seed in the 10-team double-elimination tournament.
The World Series will take place at Harris field on the campus of Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho, beginning Friday, May 27. Westmont (45-11) will open against the host Lewis-Clark State (54-5) on Friday, beginning at 7 p.m.
This is Westmont’s first berth to the NAIA World Series in program history. Fans can tune into the NAIA broadcast here.