The competition may change for the UCSB baseball team, but, to paraphrase Led Zeppelin, the result remains the same.

Playing in their first Big West series of the season, the Gauchos (27-10, 2-1 in the Big West) won two out of three games against Cal State Northridge (24-15, 2-4) to continue their early season success.

After rolling to an 8-3 victory Thursday behind junior pitcher James Garcia’s career-high 11 strikeouts, Santa Barbara dropped an 18-5 decision Saturday. UCSB was the victor in the rubber match Sunday, winning 12-3 to take the series. The Gauchos have now won 15 out of their last 18 games, and are off to their best start since 1984.

“Any time you win a series on the road it’s a big thing,” senior shortstop Jeff Bannon said. “Especially when it’s in conference against someone like Northridge.”

The Gauchos sent senior pitcher Rylie Ogle to the mound in game two on Saturday, hoping for another dominant performance from the lefty. What Santa Barbara received, however, was quite different.

Ogle, who carried an 8-1 record into the game, gave up five runs in the first inning, including a grand slam. The southpaw settled down after that and did not allow a run to cross the plate in the second or third. But Ogle ran into trouble again in the fourth, giving up two more runs before being pulled by UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema. A quartet of relievers – junior Matt Moran, senior Russell Wirth, freshman Keith Kelley and freshman Justin Angevine – fared no better, giving up a combined 11 runs over four innings pitched.

Santa Barbara finally got on the board in the sixth inning, scoring five runs, four of them coming on senior third baseman Dave Molidor’s grand slam. Junior outfielder Andy Campanella walked to lead off the inning, before sophomore center fielder Skip Schumaker was also issued a free pass. Sophomore right fielder Ryan Spilborghs then reached base with a bunt single, with Campanella scoring on a wild throw from the Northridge pitcher. Senior second baseman Chad Peshke then walked, loading the bases for the Molidor bomb.

The 7-5 deficit was as close as UCSB would come, and Northridge notched a run in the bottom of the sixth, before exploding for 10 runs in the eighth to finish the scoring.

“We got down really early on Friday,” Peshke said. “I think we did a really good job of battling back, though. We were only down two runs after Molidor’s grand slam, but things kind of got away from us at the end.”

The tables were turned Saturday, with the Gauchos cruising to the easy win. UCSB got on the board first in game three, posting four runs in the second inning to claim a lead it would never relinquish. Santa Barbara would add two runs in the fifth and seventh inning to take an 8-3 lead. The Gauchos notched three more runs in the eighth inning and one in the ninth for the final tally.

The runs came from many different sources Saturday, and leading the way for UCSB once again was Molidor, who blasted two round trippers on the day. The Gauchos also received home runs from Spilborghs and Campanella, both of them solo shots. Peshke got in the mix as well, driving in three runs, while going 2-4 at the plate. Bannon and junior third baseman Tyler Von Schell chipped in with two hits apiece, with Von Schell adding two RBI’s on the day.

Sophomore pitcher Jim Bullard picked up the win for UCSB in his most impressive performance of the season. Bullard pitched seven strong innings, while giving up only three earned runs and striking out five.

“Bullard did a really good job of setting the tone on Saturday,” Peshke said. “He was throwing a lot of strikes and getting hitters out really quickly. If one guy got on, on the next pitch there was a double play. He got lots of ground balls, and I think it was his best start of the year.

UCSB will take the field next on Friday, facing off against Sacramento State in a three-game Big West series. The Gauchos know that every game counts in conference play, and that they will have to be focused to come away with a series victory.

“We go into every series looking to take two out of three,” Von Schell said. “It’s hard to go up to Sacramento State and win series; it’s always tough to play up there. It would be nice to get the sweep, but two out of three is our goal.”