Another day, another record for the UCSB baseball team. The Big West Conference announced its 2019 All-Conference teams, with the Gauchos sporting a school-record 13 players on the first, second and honorable mention squads. In addition, catcher Eric Yang was named Field Player of the year, freshman hurler Rodney Boone is the Freshman Pitcher of the Year and coach Andrew Checketts won Coach of the Year honors for the first time.
Here’s a look at the major award winners and the Gauchos that were honored:
Eric Yang, Field Player of the Year
“A change in approach”
Eric Yang has played in all 54 games this season, 44 behind the plate and 10 as the designated hitter — utilizing that time to become the Gauchos’ most consistent hitter with a .383 batting average and 25 multi-hit games.
A year after hitting .244, coach Andrew Checketts pointed to a change in approach at the plate for the massive move forward.
“He always made firm contact, but a lot of it on the ground, so our coaches helped him get the ball in the air,” Checketts said. “It really helped, he turned and burned a bit more, using his legs more.”
When you hit .383, much of the attention goes there, but his defense (a .995 fielding percentage with just one passed ball this season) and pitch-calling helped the Gauchos lead the conference in team ERA.
“It goes unnoticed a little bit,” Checketts said. “He’s calling 95 percent of the pitches, handling the staff. He put some time into it. You have to do your homework to know your pitchers. He did that.”
Yang is also up for a national award, named one of 14 semifinalists for the Buster Posey National Catcher of the Year award.
Yang is the first Gaucho since Cameron Newell in 2015 to win the Field Player of the Year award.
Rodney Boone, Freshman Pitcher of the Year
“A lot of poise”
Rodney Boone will go down in Gaucho lore as the freshman hurler that gave the school its first Big West title in 33 years, tossing 8.1 innings of shutout ball against Cal Poly to secure the title.
But his success was season-long, posting an 8-0 record over 14 starts, sporting a 2.78 ERA with 80 strikeouts.
Checketts pointed to the left-hander’s ability to pitch through not having his best stuff as the sign of great things still to come.
“He had good bad outings,” Checketts said. “He had a fantastic start against Cal Poly and that’s what we saw early in the year, and we were so excited about it. If he wasn’t a freshman, I was going to start him on Fridays. After February, he reverted to some bad habits, but still was consistent, going five innings and giving up two or fewer earned runs. He showed a lot of poise with the ability to minimize and hang in there when he didn’t have his best stuff.”
Boone had standout performances throughout the season, including carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Stephen F. Austin in April, as well as double-digit strikeouts against both Cal Poly (12) and Missouri State (10).
Boone is the Gauchos’ first Freshman Pitcher of the Year since Mario Hollands in 2008.
Andrew Checketts, Coach of the Year
“It means we won the conference”
Andrew Checketts had pretty much accomplished everything as coach of the Gauchos, going to multiple regionals (this is his fourth), a super regional and a College World Series berth — but the Big West Conference title had escaped his grasp.
That’s no longer the case after his Gaucho team posted a 45-9 overall record, including 19-5 in conference play.
“You have to have good players and assistant coaches,” said a humbled Checketts. “Yes, it is nice and it is rewarding. But it also goes hand-in-hand with winning the conference.”
In 2019, UCSB set the school mark for wins against Div. I programs with 45 and had two 13-game winning streaks. The team also set school marks with 29 triples and 19 saves.
The team is also in the driver’s seat to set new marks for winning percentage (currently .833) and strikeouts (491, three away from record).
This is Checketts’ first Coach of the Year honor, just the fifth time UCSB’s skipper has won the honor, joining two-time recipients in Bob Brontsema (1996, 2001) and Al Ferrer (1983, 1986).