It’s easy to look ahead in the schedule when a conference cellar dweller comes to town, but the UCSB baseball team maintained its focus this weekend, sweeping a three-game series against Pacific.
The weekend featured dominating performances from all three Gaucho starting pitchers. On Friday, junior James Garcia threw a complete game masterpiece, tying a career high with 11 strikeouts en route to a 6-1 Santa Barbara victory. It was more of the same in game two, as senior Rylie Ogle pitched eight solid innings to lead UCSB to a 5-2 win. Not to be outdone, sophomore Jim Bullard turned in his best performance of the season Sunday, pitching a complete game to give the Gauchos a 9-1 win and the series sweep.
“It’s tough to get much better than that,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said of his pitchers’ performances. “We certainly pitched extremely well this weekend. I’m running out of superlatives for what [the pitchers] have been doing lately. I guess it’s a nice problem to have.”
The Gauchos (32-11 overall, 7-2 in the Big West) on Friday jumped all over UOP (20-26, 1-11) starting pitcher D.J. Houlton, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Senior second baseman Chad Peshke started the rally for Santa Barbara, drawing a two-out walk. Senior third baseman Dave Molidor followed the walk with a single. Junior first baseman Tyler Von Schell reached second on a two-base error, scoring Peshke. Senior shortstop Jeff Bannon then delivered the big blow, driving in both Molidor and Von Schell with a single.
The two teams exchanged runs in the third inning, before senior designated hitter Mike Kolbach blasted a two-run homer in the seventh for the final tally.
The Gauchos’ six runs were more than enough for Garcia, who continued to impress in his first season at UCSB. The righty surrendered only six hits in his nine innings, and capped his 11 strikeout performance by not giving up a single free pass.
“I take pride in doing the same thing day in and day out,” Garcia said. “I take pride in being consistent – that’s a big thing for a pitcher.”
Game two was another low scoring affair, with UCSB once again coming out on top. The Tigers took a brief lead in the third inning, as Joel Summers belted a home run to give UOP a 2-1 lead. But Santa Barbara responded quickly, scoring in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings to finish off Pacific.
After giving up the homer in the third inning, Ogle shut down the Tigers. The southpaw gave up only three hits in eight innings, while striking out seven.
“The entire pitching staff has a game plan,” Ogle said. “We try to work down and work ahead. When we do that, it makes us tough to beat.”
The Gauchos’ offense returned with a vengeance in game three. UCSB got on the board first with five runs in the third inning, including a solo blast from Von Schell. The round-tripper was his 16th of the season, which puts him only one away from tying the Santa Barbara single season record.
“I have been thinking about the record recently, maybe a little too much,” Von Schell said. “I just try to go out there and get hits when I can and get some RBI’s to help the team.”
UCSB followed up its third-inning explosion with one run in the fourth and another in the fifth inning to take a 7-1 lead. The Gauchos then posted two runs in the sixth to finish the scoring.
Jim Bullard picked up the win for UCSB, pitching a complete game. Bullard allowed no earned runs and struck out six in his finest performance as a Gaucho.
“[Bullard] only threw 100 pitches,” Brontsema said. “He was just really on today. [Pacific] went after him early in the count, and that helped him to go deep into the game with his pitch count.”
The Gauchos now enter the most important stretch of the season. UCSB hosts Long Beach State next weekend before heading to Fullerton for a three-game series with the Titans. Both series promise to be tough, and Santa Barbara will need to be on top of its game to come away in first place in the Big West.
“It’s nice to get on a roll going into such an important stretch for us,” Brontsema said. “These next nine games are where you separate the men from the boys.”