While many UCSB students left Santa Barbara for their hometowns, Mexico, or other places in search of fun and relaxation for Spring Break, the Gauchos (16-10) stayed home and hosted a five-game series against Cornell. The Big Red (3-10) turned out to be not much more than a big help to the Gauchos’ ERAs and batting averages as Santa Barbara swept Cornell to build a five-game winning streak going into the final weekend of its pre-conference schedule.
Having played only six games due to the cold weather in New York, Cornell came into its California road trip, which called for seven games in seven days, with less game experience than the Gauchos. The uncertainty showed, as the Big Red trotted out different lineups every day, committed 11 errors and yielded an unbelievable 71 runs to the hot-hitting Gauchos while scoring just 12 themselves. UCSB raised its team batting average to .315, but lowered its team ERA to 4.60, the first time since opening day that it has been below 5.00.
“It’s early in their season,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Some of [the Gauchos’ pitching success] had to do with Cornell being early, and some had to do with how well we pitched.”
Santa Barbara started the week-long cakewalk around the bases with a 12-1 thrashing of Cornell on March 21 behind 15 hits and a 7.1-inning effort from sophomore pitcher Michael Martin. Junior second baseman Chris Malec and sophomore first baseman Bill Rowe both smacked home runs in the Gauchos’ five-run second inning, with Malec’s blast coming as his first since February 2003. The Big Red managed 11 hits against Martin but stranded 11 men as well as running into several outs on the base paths.
The Gauchos put up a dozen the following day, roughing up Cornell left-hander Luke Staskal for seven runs in less than two innings of work. Malec and Rowe each went yard again, and Rowe surpassed his freshman home run total with his fourth circuit clout. Sophomore right-hander Steve Morlock tossed eight innings and gave up four earned runs, one of his better outings of the year.
“It’s the first time all year that I’ve worked that long, so that felt good,” Morlock said of reaching past the sixth inning for the first time all season. “I threw my slider out of the strike zone a lot and they were swinging at it. We picked that up from them [after the first game].”
Senior third baseman Nate Sutton scored three runs, stole three bases in last Monday’s game, stole home on Saturday and boosted his season total to 17 steals with five on the week.
“If Nate gets on base, we’re going to run, and Nate has been getting on base,” Brontsema said, referring to Sutton’s .446 on-base percentage.
Cornell traveled to Cal Poly for a short two-game set, losing both games, and UCSB welcomed the Big Red back to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium with a 31-3 walloping on Thursday. The Gauchos punched out 27 hits and fell one short of the school record for runs in a game as all position players got into the game and had at least two plate appearances.
“Nobody wants to win 31-3, and the difference [Thursday] was that after we did substitutions, we just kept getting hits,” Brontsema said. “But a positive is that a lot of guys get a lot of at-bats.”
The Gauchos actually trailed 1-0 when the scoring spree began with a nine-run third inning, which UCSB followed with an 11-run fifth and a five-run seventh. Sutton, senior outfielder Brian Adams, junior utility man Matt Stevens and junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson all socked round-trippers in the lopsided contest, with Sutton’s blast coming with the bases loaded. Redshirt freshman hurler Andy Graham quietly pitched seven strong innings to collect his first collegiate win.
Wilkerson slammed his second home run of the season in Friday’s 11-1 victory and broke out of a season-long slump with five RBIs. Malec pounded out three hits and scored three times, and freshman shortstop Chris Valaika knocked his third home run of the season. Junior hurler Loren Fraser picked up the spot-start when freshman pitcher Brian Tracy was scratched due to back spasms and returned the favor by allowing just four hits and one unearned run, fanning eight Big Red hitters in seven innings pitched.
Cornell starter Rocky Collis, who yielded nine runs in two innings pitched in his first appearance against UCSB, held the Gauchos scoreless until the sixth inning in Saturday’s game. Santa Barbara then struck for three runs to take a 3-1 lead and rewarded Martin’s strong outing up to that point. UCSB went to the pen for the final three innings, and junior reliever Nate Holguin and senior pitchers Ivan Ramirez and Aaron Jones allowed only three base runners over that span.
The Gauchos scored twice more to win 5-1 and net Martin’s seventh win of the season against no losses. UCSB has not had a seven-game winner since 2001, when Rylie Ogle and James Garcia both won 10 games.
Santa Barbara will return to action tomorrow at Loyola Marymount, a team that beat them 11-9 earlier this month thanks to a nine-run first inning. Morlock is slated for the start.