Cougars set to play host to No. 12 UC Santa Barbara

College of Charleston sophomore Dupree Hart led the Cougars last year with a .314 batting average. (Al Samuels)

Wanted: “College baseball team with excellent record and high RPI ranking for weekend series in spring of 2016.”

When University of California-Santa Barbara baseball coach Andrew Checketts went looking for a non-conference opponent to complete his schedule for this season, he didn’t exactly place a “want ad” on the Internet — but that’s not too far from the truth.

“We used to get the series with Charleston,” Checketts said with a chuckle. “It’s a great online dating service for college baseball coaches.”

The 12th-ranked Gauchos (20-6) made the 3,000-mile cross-country trek earlier in the week and will take on the College of Charleston (20-9) this weekend in three-game series beginning Friday night at 6 p.m. at Patriots Point.

There is a website (not called that college baseball coaches use to post about schedules, hoping to find just the right suitor for games. It was on this website that Checketts and Cougars baseball coach Matt Heath discovered they both shared a common bye week. The Cougars were originally going to face national power Oklahoma State this weekend, but because of exam issues with another team in the Colonial Athletic Association had to move some dates around on their schedule.

“We were locked in to go to Oklahoma State, but then we had to move some games around and this weekend became available,” Heath said. “Santa Barbara has hosted a regional and they’ve got a great tradition and they’re having a great season. It worked out for both teams. We don’t get a chance to see very many teams from out West, so it’s fun to play a team we’re not that familiar with.”

The Gauchos are in the Big West Conference, which has nine members so each team has a bye week built into their conference schedule.

“Finding quality teams to play in the middle of the season, especially this time of year when schools are in the middle of their conference schedule, is very difficult,” Checketts said. “We couldn’t believe our luck to find a team like Charleston that had the same open weekend we had.”

Like the College of Charleston, the Gauchos are not blessed with huge financial resources and Checketts had to weigh the cost-benefit of a cross-country trip.

“We don’t have a huge baseball budget and this was something we thought about for a while,” Checketts said. “We wanted to play against a competitive team, a team that has been to regionals, that’s got a high RPI and Charleston really met all those criteria and then some. We feel very fortunate to get a series with them.”

With a roster full of California natives, Checketts said the Gauchos rarely go east of the Rocky Mountains to play teams. A year ago, UC Santa Barbara played nationally-ranked Wichita State.

“There are so many good teams in California that there’s really not a need to go too far out of state to find a game,” Checketts said. “I know most of our players has never been to the South. I know I haven’t been to Charleston and I’m really looking forward to it. From everything I hear it’s a beautiful city and we know Charleston has a very good baseball team.”

Both teams own strong RPI rankings – the Gauchos are No. 9, while the Cougars are No. 13.

“This is a series that’s going to benefit both programs,” Heath said. “We’ve really tried to get as good a non-conference schedule as we can and playing a team like Santa Barbara is only going to help improve our resume.”

The Cougars have planned a return trip to California to face the Gauchos in 2018.