Previewing the Gauchos with UCSB's Matt Hurst

In order to get to know UC Santa Barbara better before this weekend's series, BTD did a quick Q&A with UCSB Associate Communications Director Matt Hurst. His answers are below. Enjoy!

Q. Right hander Jesse Meaux is Friday's probable starter for the Gauchos. How has he looked so far this season?

A. Jesse has been a huge part of UCSB’s success, returning for his senior season after being drafted last June by Philadelphia. A lot of times you hear the term "ace" mentioned when talking about a major league team’s top pitcher and this year, Jesse is the team’s ace. But that doesn’t just mean that his stuff is good – which it is, very much so. It also takes on the form of Jesse being the lead dog, the captain, the person who takes the baton on the first game of a weekend series and pitches well and it trickles down through the weekend.

He’s had one start that wasn’t his best, but it came in Pullman in late February when the temperature maxed out around 15 degrees. If that. So, he should receive a mulligan for that game. As Jesse has progressed in his time at UCSB, so has his stuff and his makeup. He rarely walks batters, he gets guys to hit a lot of groundballs, but he also can strike out guys when he needs to.

He is a person who knows how to pitch and he really sets the tone for the weekend for the rest of the pitching staff.

Q. After Meaux, what should we expect to see out of the bullpen? A mixture of relievers, or just a long reliever and a closer?

A. There are stories that the day before Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers, the relievers would go out and party hard because they knew they weren’t going to have to be called on pitch the next day. Jesse brings that sort of mentality to the table (No, I am not comparing Meaux to Koufax, nor the Dodgers hard-partying relievers to the Gauchos. I am simply using it as an illustration for this next point …) Last year, Meaux went at least seven innings in 10 of his 14 starts. This year he is averaging over seven innings per start. So, to answer your question honestly, we probably won’t see a lot of guys come in after Jesse is on the mound on Friday (assuming everything goes well for the Gauchos).

But, to look at the bullpen as a whole … The relief corps has been very good recently (5 ER in the last 24.2 IP) and it’s because it can be a very deep ‘pen which is something a lot of college teams cannot say about themselves. UCSB has four quality lefties that can either be used in a situational role or be used for an inning or longer.

The Gauchos also feature a few right-handers that can change looks on batters. Recently, UCSB has used the off man of the four-man starting rotation to close games. Greg Davis, our projected Sunday starter, has three saves. Nick Loredo, our normal Tuesday guy, has two saves. A lot of times the starters have bullpen days that coincide with game days, so why not face live hitters if the situation calls for it?

Q. The Beavers are a very young team, what about the Gauchos? Are they very young, and which newcomers have made an impact thus far?

A. UCSB has a very good mix throughout its roster. There are 13 freshmen and 15 seniors. It has allowed the large group of seniors to lead the way and with that many upperclassmen, it allows the freshmen to seek out information almost on a position-by-position basis.

Say you have a freshman second baseman like Joe Woodward, he can easily talk with senior second baseman Sean Williams on learning the Division I game; or for example, we have three starting pitchers who are seniors, so they know how to prepare their bodies and their minds to approach each start. This creates a wealth of information for the young pitchers to pick their brains on how to not only approach opposing hitters, but what it takes to balance academics and athletics, how to be prepared for a start or relief appearance, or anything else that might come into play. The best part about this year’s group is that they all get along so well.

Q. What is UCSB's offensive identity? More "swing for the fences", or a lot of small ball like the Beavers play?

A: I think that the Earl Weaver style of college baseball may be dying because of the new bats. And that’s not a bad thing. Too often you’d see football-esque scores in a baseball game and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. I think the new bats have helped separate the legitimate players from the ones who may have squeezed by because they were aided by the previous aluminum bats. Nowadays if you hit a home run, you’ve earned it, almost like in the majors.

That being said, the Gauchos have a few guys who can put the ball out of the park in Mark Haddow, Joe Wallace and Trevor Whyte among starting guys. UCSB has a lot of guys with good gap power – Ben Edelstein, Sean Williams, Lance Roenicke, Dan Camou, Ryan Palermo, Derek Eligio. I wouldn’t say that the team relies on small ball, or the home run, but does a lot of things well such as taking the extra base when needed, hitting the other way with a man on second, hit and run, etc. that helps translates to wins.

So, if you’re looking for an identity, it might come with this – the team has a good deal of speed up and down the order, which helps in the previous things I mentioned. I’m not saying they’re the 1987 Cardinals, but there are some guys who can do some things if they get on base.

Q. The Gauchos went 0-2 against Washington State earlier in the year. What can the Beavers do to copy the success the Cougars had in those games?

A. Play a Southern California team in the snow and freezing temperatures.

Rest of the Q&A after the break

Q. Is there any doubt that you guys have the best logo in the NCAA?

Photo via realtalkthemag.com

A. I’m going to have to give credit where it’s due and Beavers fans will like this. UCSB’s Director of Athletics is Mark Massari, who came to Santa Barbara from Oregon State. He had a vision for the new logo and new look and he helped create it.

Q. What is a Gaucho, and is it the same thing as the mysterious, hat-wearing guy depicted in your logo?

A. A Gaucho is an Argentinean cowboy. UCSB alum Paul Rivas, a friend of mine who graduated in the same class as I did, spent some time in Argentina and wrote a terrific piece on the real life Gauchos (fans should read it: http://www.independent.com/news/2009/apr/21/men-behind-myths/) detailing their true lifestyles and how UCSB came to be known as the Gauchos.

For fans that want to know quickly – from Rivas’ article "The university has been using the nickname since 1936 when, inspired by Douglas Fairbanks’s performance in the 1927 film The Gaucho, the female student population led a vote to change the mascot from the original Roadrunners."

Q. Off topic, but can you give Beaver fans an idea of what it's like to be in the Big Dance? We won the CBI a few years ago, so that's the closest we have gotten to some March Madness.

A. To be playing in college sports’ biggest event is otherworldly. To see your school competing on national television in front of millions of viewers is something that a lot of alums or employees cannot brag about. But, to see it done two years in a row? Wow. Just working in the athletic department and knowing the student-athletes and the coaching staff and seeing the time and effort and energy they put in helps make it that much more fulfilling.

To see a fan base rise up and support one team for one cause is awesome. Jim Rome is a UCSB alum and he has bragged about the Gauchos on his show each of the last two years. So, it affects everyone who has been a part of UCSB – either as a student or an employee – because seeing your school and your team as a unifying force is really what sports, and college athletics, is all about.

Q. Prediction?

A. Can I say that UCSB sweeps and wins each game by 17 runs? Haha. I will say this, though: If the Gauchos pitch the way they have been lately, and get the timely hits they have been producing lately, it will be a very good series.

While Beavers fans do get to see a lot of solid teams come through Corvallis, the Gauchos play in the Big West and compete with a lot of stiff competition while playing national contenders on a yearly basis, so UCSB may surprise some Oregon State fans. This is a Gaucho team that is playing some good baseball right now and I know OSU is tough every year.

That being said, I don’t want to throw out some prediction. But I will say that I expect to see some very good baseball this weekend from a pair of teams that play the game the right way.

Thanks Matt!

--Connor
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