FULLERTON, Calif. – The more things change for UCSB, the more they stay the same.
The Gauchos changed scenery, got a scheduling break and saw the return of their Sunday starter, but still fell short in each of three games this weekend at #2 Cal State Fullerton.
Santa Barbara has now lost eight consecutive games after being swept for the second weekend in a row. The Titans held a 24-run advantage over Santa Barbara in the three-game series, collecting victories on Thursday, Friday and Saturday by scores of 8-3, 16-7 and 14-4, respectively.
The losses all but knock UCSB (18-20, 1-8 in the Big West) out of the playoff hunt with only 12 conference games remaining. The Gauchos have dropped into last place in the Big West a full two games from the seventh-place team, Cal State Northridge.
Fullerton (34-8, 8-1) retained its hold on first place in the conference, but Long Beach State stands only one game behind the Titans.
UCSB senior southpaw Sean Thompson (5-4) pitched well enough to win in Thursday’s opener but Titan junior right-hander Wes Littleton (5-1) upstaged the senior.
Thompson lasted seven and two-thirds innings and gave up eight runs, five earned. He struck out eight and walked four but received no help from his defense.
In the third inning after a one-out error by senior shortstop Josh Fulton, the Titans capitalized as the next three batters each singled and drove in two runs.
Another single and a RBI groundout made the score 4-0. Fulton would commit another error in the fourth that led to Fullerton’s fifth run.
The Gauchos finally got on the board in the seventh against Littleton. Sophomore right fielder Matt Wilkerson and junior outfielder Brian Adams both singled to begin the frame and then advanced a base when junior catcher Chad Ziemendorf was hit by a pitch. After two wild pitches and an RBI groundout by junior designated hitter Taylor Vogt, the Gauchos closed the gap to 6-3.
But the Titan bullpen held strong and saved Littleton’s fifth win. The junior lasted seven innings and gave up three runs on four hits.
On Friday night, UCSB used six pitchers but none of them could find the answer to the explosive CSUF offense. Starter Michael Martin (2-1) took the loss after lasting only one and two-thirds innings. The freshman allowed four runs while walking four. Junior right-hander Rich Sorenson lasted the longest of any
Gaucho pitcher, hanging in for three and one-third innings and surrendering two runs.
UCSB battled back to twice to get within one run, but each time Santa Barbara surged, the Titans had a response. With the score 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth, Fullerton broke the game open with a three-run inning and eventually scored in the remaining two frames. Wilkerson hit his fourth home run of the season in the losing effort.
The Gauchos took their first lead of the series on Saturday afternoon by scoring twice in the first inning against Titan junior right-hander Jason Windsor (6-1).
But Fullerton fought back against UCSB junior Matt Vasquez (2-4), who eventually picked up the loss. Santa Barbara tied the score 3-3 in the fifth, but Fullerton soon took control.