UK looking to make noise against No. 23 UCSB

Outfielder Tristan Pompey hits the ball up the middle during a game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

By Chris Angolia

UK baseball fans may have briefly fallen in love with the UC Santa Barbara baseball program last May as the Gauchos swept Louisville in the NCAA Super Regionals, denying the Cats’ rivals a berth in the College World Series, but that love will soon turn come Friday.

Ranked as the No. 23 team in the country by, the Gauchos are heading east to face Nick Mingione’s club for a weekend series that begins on Friday. 

The Cats are coming off of back to back wins over in-state rivals Eastern and Western Kentucky by a combined 27 runs.  Despite a 4-5 start to the season, UK has played as if the cob webs are off, having won four of its last five games and having scored 67 runs over the last five.

“It (offense) just takes time,” Mingione said after Wednesday’s win.

As for the Gauchos, they have struggled a bit out of the gate and are off to a 4-4 start in 2017 after high expectations coming in to the season.  Despite the struggles for UCSB, they have managed to have the Cats’ number in the few games that these two schools have played, leading the overall series 3-1.

Last year the Gauchos grabbed a 11-4 victory over the Cats and in 2015, took two of three from UK in the first ever matchups with the two ball-clubs.

UK is looking to make its presence felt on the national scene despite the early struggles, and one guy who will play a big role in that is junior second baseman Riley Mahan.

Mahan leads the team with 14 RBIs this year, and is already just 18 RBI away from matching his total from all of last season. As a junior, this is Mahan’s third consecutive year facing the Gauchos, and he is well aware of how challenging this weekend will be.

“My first two years here we played UCSB and they are always the most fundamentally sound team,” Mahan said. “They do it all really well, they are a great team.”

A team that is the caliber and has the prestige that UCSB does, is going to be hungry especially because they have not exactly gotten off to a great start. However, UK is going to be hungry in coach Mingione’s first ever home weekend series, and a series victory over a team that went to Omaha last year would be as good a start as a coach could ask for to his home career.

“For us, we just need to come out and play our game,” Mahan said. “We can’t worry about how good they have been in the past, how good they are this year, what they are ranked. We need to come out and put good at bats together and our pitchers need to come out and throw strikes and just pound the zone and we will try to pull out some wins.”