It’s been years in the making, and tonight it comes to fruition: Baseball under the lights at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
The Gauchos will play the program’s first-ever home game at night when they host the California Golden Bears at 5:30 p.m.
As for the team, it just completed a three-game series at Sacramento State, with the Gauchos winning two out of three.
UCSB is coming off of a 45-11 campaign in 2019 — a season that saw the program advance to the NCAA postseason for the fourth time in coach Andrew Checketts eight seasons on the job. For Checketts, he’s just glad that his team is back between the lines for another season.
“Just getting back and competing again, that’s what we’re most excited about,” he said. “A lot of work goes into the offseason recruiting and training, practicing and all that stuff. You wind the toy up and you want to see how it performs in the race.
“I think that’s the most exciting part about it, playing somebody else.”
As for pitching, the Gauchos got a phenomenal performance from former Santa Ynez and Cuesta standout Zach Torra on Saturday in a starting role, and former SBCC star Conner Roberts, who tossed five scoreless innings of relief to earn the win in a 1-0, 11-inning victory over Sac State. Sophomore Michael McGreevy also tossed a gem on Sunday, going 6.2 innings and earning the win after allowing one run with seven strikeouts.
Sophomore left-hander Rodney Boone suffered his first loss as a Gaucho in Friday’s 6-1 setback in Sacramento. Boone lasted only three innings after posting an 8-0 mark last season.
In the grand scheme of things, Checketts knows he can count on Boone this season like he did last season. His stuff is too good not to be successful.
But as for how everything else shakes out in terms of a midweek starter, the bullpen and perhaps a spot in the weekend rotation, Checketts maintains it’s not an overnight solution.
“I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to settle in,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of established guys and we have some good talent, but there are some question marks in terms of roles and how we’re going to use them and when we’re going to use them. I feel a little bit like we gave our best-guess effort the first weekend, but it’s going to take probably three or four weeks for it to settle in.
“With moving McGreevy into a starting role, that means somebody’s really going to need to step up into that (set-up) role. We’re counting on Connor Roberts to do that and probably (freshman) Alex Schrier to close for us.”
McGreevy was the Gauchos top arm out of the bullpen last season with a 1.94 earned run average in 60.1 innings. It won’t be easy replacing the sophomore right-hander in the pen, but Checketts is very high on Roberts and Schrier, who are both beginning their UCSB careers.
“They’re both new guys this year, so it leaves some question marks, but they’ve had good falls and they have the talent and ability to do it,” Checketts said. “It will just be a matter of how they respond to game pressure and those kinds of situations. I think the midweek spot is going to be something where it feels like we might have tryouts for a little bit.
“It might be a couple of different guys in that role, extended out, and see who kind of wins the job after a couple of weeks. We’ve got some good arms and there’s some talent, but there’s work to be done. Their roles are going to take some time to sort through.”
It was not known at press time who would start for the Gauchos tonight against Cal.
As for the offense, UCSB lost its top six hitters from last season, and it showed at times during the first weekend of the season.
The Gauchos scored only two runs in the first two games at Sac State before Sunday’s 4-2 win.
While some big bats are gone, some big bats are still around, like second baseman Marcos Castanon, who homered in Friday’s game, and first baseman Kyle Johnson, who had three hits and scored the winning run on Saturday.
UCSB is also expected to get some offensive punch from a slew of newcomers, which include JC transfers Gianni Bloom and Cole Cummings. Bloom, who opened the season as a designated hitter and catcher, had three hits in Saturday’s win. Cummings started at third against Sac State and had a pair of hits and a run batted in on Sunday.
“The first six hitters (from last season) are gone, so we’ve got new guys,” Checketts said. “Some guys have developed and gotten better, and we’ve got McClain (O’Connor) back and Marcos back, and both of those guys have really improved, especially over the last 30 days. “Offensively, we did not have a good fall. We really struggled. We struggled to get hits when we played our fall games against Cal Poly and Pepperdine. I had some concerns about that, but they’ve had a good last 40 days since we’ve gotten back (from the winter break). We’ve made some progress there and some guys have come around.”