Eat your heart out, Jekyll and Hyde.
From the fourth inning on in Saturday’s 22-8 romp of Fresno State, the UCSB baseball team hit, pitched and fielded like a completely different team than the one that lost 7-6 Friday and was down 7-1 going into the fourth inning Saturday.
The stark contrast was impossible to ignore, and the most striking difference was the Gaucho bats. After the third inning Saturday, the Gauchos scored at least three runs in every inning, including a five-run rally in the fourth that brought the Gauchos to within one. After junior left fielder Matt Stevens worked his way to third after a free pass, freshman shortstop Chris Valaika hit a towering opposite field rocket over the right field wall, and the Gauchos were never the same. Senior third baseman Nate Sutton and junior designated hitter David Figoni both singled before junior second baseman Chris Malec doubled down the left field line, plating both Sutton and Figoni, who dove in head first to knock out the ball Fresno State senior catcher Brandon Marcelli thought he had.
“Mentally, we were on thin ice,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “For us to come back like that was really big. We were starting to doubt ourselves out there.”
In the next inning, UCSB picked up right where it left off and sent three more around the bases. This time it would be Valaika again providing the spark with a single to left after senior center fielder Brian Adams singled. After Sutton was walked by Bulldog senior pitcher David Griffin, senior pinch hitter Greg Powers sent one skyward, right in front of the sun that Bulldog sophomore center fielder Richie Robnett could not shed, scoring Adams. Griffin continued to struggle when he hit Malec, scoring Valaika.
Valaika easily had the best performance of his young collegiate career Saturday as the rookie went 5-5 with three RBI and five runs scored.
“I was just waiting for good pitches to hit, really. We’ve been talking about contagious hitting and I guess the sickness is going around,” Valaika said after Saturday’s mauling. “We got out here early today to take some extra swings and it paid off.”
The Gaucho bullpen continued its tear Saturday and Sunday. Saturday, junior pitcher Loren Fraser took his turn after senior pitcher who struggled with the start. Fraser went three and one-third innings, allowing just one run off four hits and earning himself his first victory of the year.
Sunday, Santa Barbara continued to swing the bats aggressively against the fragile Fresno State arms. Malec popped a sack fly in the bottom of the first to get the Gauchos out to an early lead, and after Fresno State took a 2-1 lead in the second inning, UCSB knotted the game back up on a Valaika RBI single to right.
Going into the fifth inning, still tied 2-2, it appeared that Gaucho starter sophomore Michael Martin might be vested in a pitcher’s duel with Bulldog freshman pitcher Brandon Miller. While Martin held up his end of the bargain (six and two-thirds innings pitched, seven hits, three earned runs), Miller could not keep the Gaucho bats silent for much longer. In the bottom half of the sixth, the Gauchos swelled the bases with sophomore first baseman Bill Rowe coming to bat. Rowe slapped a Miller fastball between first and second, bringing in Sutton and Figoni from third and second to give the Gauchos a 4-2 lead.
Up 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth, senior catcher Taylor Vogt erased any doubts of a Fresno State comeback, jacking a Matt Garza fastball up from the and at the calm eucalyptus trees beyond the right field wall to jump the score to 8-2.
“He got behind in the count and I was looking fastball and just sitting on it,” Vogt said.
The series win puts the Gauchos at 8-5 heading into Tuesday’s clash with UCLA. Brontsema said he will likely go with freshman Andy Graham, who pitched gracefully Friday in three and one third innings of relief, allowing no runs on two hits to keep the Gauchos within striking distance.