Over the past week, it has seemed as if Santa Barbara (17-10) hasn’t been playing fairly, bringing whole sheets of aluminum up to hit against pitchers who are lobbing volleyballs.
The Gauchos’ offensive juggernaut blew out the Loyola Marymount Lions (16-12-1, 7-2 in the West Coast Conference) 15-7 in nonconference action Tuesday, continuing a six-game winning streak during which they’ve scored an average of over 14 runs per game.
LMU threw a scare into the Gauchos by scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning at Page Stadium, beginning the game with three straight hits. But UCSB was able to avoid a bigger hole by turning an inning-ending double play. Sophomore starting pitcher Steve Morlock buckled down and didn’t allow any more runs until the fifth inning, earning the win and putting him at 4-4, at .500 for the first time since the second week of the season.
“Steve is a traditional slow starter, he gives up the ‘automatic two,'” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said, referring to the tendency to open the gates for scoring early in the game and then shut them as the innings roll on.
“We’re not excited about it, but we’ve been in that situation before, and if we can score runs, it’s not such a bad thing,” Brontsema said.
UCSB junior catcher Matt Kalafatis doubled down the right field line to bring home freshman shortstop Chris Valaika to cut the Lions’ lead to 2-1 in the third inning. LMU starter Kevin Jenson issued free passes to the next four Gaucho hitters to put UCSB ahead 3-2, and to an eventual loss and an early shower. Sophomore first baseman Bill Rowe knocked a single into left field off Lion reliever Jackson Creighton for the Gauchos’ fourth and fifth tallies of the third inning.
All told, the LMU staff would walk 15 Gauchos, and eight of them eventually came around to score.
The Gauchos let loose for six more runs in the sixth inning, thanks largely to junior outfielder Matt Wilkerson’s third home run in three games, a towering grand slam to left-center field just to the right of the Blue Monster, Page Stadium’s replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster. Wilkerson would later draw a walk with the bases loaded for his fifth RBI of the day and his 17th in his last six games.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good and seeing the ball well,” Wilkerson, who is hitting .400 since last week, said. “I was anxious in that third at-bat [after flying out twice to right], but I knew that they were probably going to work me middle-away, so I stuck with that approach.”
The rest of the Gaucho lineup hasn’t been too shabby of late either, logging at least ten hits in each of its past six games and in eight of its last ten.
“It might’ve taken a week of being confident swinging the bat and with the approach,” Wilkerson said. “A week of success will do wonders at the plate.”
Virtually ignored this past week has been the UCSB pitching staff, working on a 2.73 ERA during the six-game winning streak, including a bullpen mark of 3.21. Freshman Andy Graham, junior Loren Fraser and senior Aaron Jones did yield four runs Tuesday, but senior lefty Ivan Ramirez pitched a perfect eighth inning and the ‘pen is only responsible for two losses halfway through the season.