May 26, 2004
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - UC Santa Barbara freshman shortstop Chris Valaika was named Freshman Player of the Year and Second-Team All-Big West by the conference late Monday afternoon after one of the most impressive rookie campaigns ever by a Gaucho. Junior second baseman Chris Malec was awarded First-Team All-Big West honors as well as right-handed reliever Alex McRobbie who received Honorable Mention.
Valaika, UCSB's team leader in hits, doubles, triples and total bases, is the first ever recipient of the conference's Freshman of the Year award and the first freshman to receive second team honors since Malec back in 2002. The right-handed hitting rookie finished with a .347 batting average, a team high 77 hits, 15 doubles, three triples and 119 total bases. His .536 slugging percentage was good for second best on the squad and he was the lone Gaucho to be on the field for every pitch of all 54 UCSB games. He finished with seven home runs, second on the team behind Matt Wilkerson and Taylor Vogt's nine. In Santa Barbara's season finale on Sunday, May 23, Valaika broke Malec's freshman hits record with his 76th base hit of the season. He finished the 2004 regular season campaign with 77. The sure-handed shortstop also finished with a .960 fielding percentage and led the Big West with 195 assists.
"From day one, Valaika stepped right into the middle of the team and earned the respect that most freshman don't get," Gaucho Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. "He also respected his place on the team as a freshman, but he played like an All-American junior."
Malec, whose first team selection is the first for a Gaucho since 2001, hit .306 and also played in all 54 of UCSB's contests. His 68 hits was second only to Valaika and his 54 RBI second to Wilkerson. Malec knocked a career high 11 doubles and scored a career high 49 runs. He finished with four home runs and a .975 fielding percentage.
"Malec put together the outstanding year we expected from him, coming back from an injury-plagued sophomore season," Brontsema said. "He was one of our most potent bats and was very deserving of this honor."
Valaika and Malec's selections mark the first time since 1992 that UCSB's middle infield has had both members receive all-conference honors. Twelve years ago, second baseman David Waco and shortstop Danny Lane both received first-team honors. This year's pair of Valaika and Malec combined to turn the most double plays in the Big West.
McRobbie's honorable mention nod marks the first all-conference selection for a Gaucho pitcher since 2001 and the first by a UCSB reliever since 2000. After limited action in his freshman and sophomore campaigns which saw McRobbie only toss a combined 31.2 innings in 22 games, the right-hander led the Gauchos in ERA in 2004 with a 1.51 mark in 41.2 innings. In 21 appearances, McRobbie struck out 42 batters and allowed just seven earned runs. His strikeout to walk ratio of six to one was also a team-best. McRobbie posted a team-best 0.96 ERA in Big West play and allowed just four walks in 28 conference innings.
"In a league with dominant pitching, both starting and in relief, Alex put together an incredible year," Brontsema said. "For a middle reliever to be named All-Big West is quite an achievement and also very deserving."