This team was predicted fourth in the Big West Conference before the season. This team was expected to be too young to have much success this year. This team was not expected to come this far … but it has. The UCSB baseball team is headed to Omaha, the site of the College World Series, for the first time in program history after knocking off No. 2 Louisville in walk-off grand slam fashion in game two of the Super Regionals.
“I don’t have a lot of words, I’m still in a little bit of shock,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “Remarkable. I think as a coach we don’t get to get in the box anymore or play anymore so ultimately it is the players that made the difference. These guys have been a remarkable group in terms of perseverance and belief.”
The match was nothing short of spectacular, encompassing everything this young Gaucho team has stood for all season: the will to never give up even when facing a multiple-run deficit heading into the final inning of play.
For 8.1 innings, the game had belonged to Louisville thanks to the tremendous pitching efforts of ACC Pitcher of the Year, junior Drew Harrington, and junior Zach Burdi, who was drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox on Friday.
In the fourth, Louisville was able to produce some runs in order to help out its amazing pitchers, beginning with sophomore DH Brendan McKay’s solo shot homer to right field. Sophomore Blake Tiberi then hit an RBI double and senior Danny Rosenbaum capped off the inning with a RBI single to give the home squad a 3-0 lead.
Harrington pitched an absolutely spectacular game for the home team, going seven innings while allowing only six hits, one walk, and no earned runs while striking out 12 batters on 92 pitches. The 12 K’s are a new single-game postseason record for the Cardinals and a new career high for the junior.
The ACC Pitcher of the Year then turned the mound over to Burdi, who inherited runners on first and second but seemed as though he was going to put the Gauchos away easy. Not fazed by the two runners on base, the junior forced UCSB to hit into a 5-3 double play, then struck out the final batter to maintain the lead heading into the final inning.
After the Cardinals were unable to add any runs in the top of the ninth, Burdi came out hoping to secure the victory for his team and force a game three.
After sophomore Austin Bush struck out for the fourth time in the game, all hope seemed to dwindle as even the Gaucho’s big-time hitter was unable to register a hit off the tremendous pitchers.
Then redshirt sophomore JJ Muno got a single, followed by a Dempsey Grover walk and, finally, a Billy Fredrick walk that loaded the bases for UCSB and gave them hope.
Up to bat next would have been sophomore Kyle Plantier, but Head Coach Andrew Checketts felt it better to go with a pinch-hitter. Checketts felt it best to go with freshman backup catcher Sam Cohen.
The freshman, California-native then made the biggest play of his career, sending his team to the College World Series after hitting a walk-off grand slam making the final score 4-3 in favor of Santa Barbara.
This is real…
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 12, 2016
Words cannot explain how incredible the scene was. The players were so delighted that even the umpire got caught in the dog pile that proceeded the home run by Cohen.
“I really just buckled down and choked up a little bit and got on top of the dish and from that point on I was just looking for anything middle in just to try to elevate,” said Cohen. “Right when I hit it I didn’t realize until I touched home plate that I hit one out.”
Burdi is a tremendous pitcher, highly respected around the collegiate baseball community, and a freshman with only 26 prior at-bats ended his season with one of the most clutch hits in college baseball history.
This is one of those games, and one of those moments, that will live on not only in UCSB history but college baseball history as well.
Santa Barbara has now gone a perfect 5-0 in this postseason and has knocked off top teams along the way in order to do so. This is a team that has exceeded all expectations and is making history as we speak.
The final kicker, Cohen was not even listed in the UCSB pregame media packet. Something tells me, he’s earned the right to be in the next one.
The Gauchos next game will be in the College World Series against the winner of the Oklahoma St./South Carolina series with a time to be determined.