Some dreams are so great that you don’t want to wake up and face reality. Before their shutout loss to #10 Irvine (22-7-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big West) Thursday, the Gauchos (21-12 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) were living a dream on an offensively powered nine-game winning streak.
Santa Barbara rolled over and hit the snooze button on Friday night, losing to the Anteaters 5-3 before tumbling out of bed Saturday afternoon with an 8-2 victory in the final game of the series.
Groggy and upset that the fantasy was over, UCSB could not come up with any hits off Irvine junior starter Glenn Swanson through the first six innings of Friday’s game. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth with freshman pitcher Andy Graham on the hill, disaster struck as the Anteaters tallied four runs on a two-run single, a wild pitch, and a throwing error to take a five-run lead.
“Graham pitched very well, but we lost a ball in the lights and made a couple of errors,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It was a disappointing weekend only because we gave [Friday’s game] away. If we play defense, we win Friday and have a pretty good weekend.”
The Gauchos finally got to Swanson in the seventh, knocking three consecutive two-out base hits, the last one a two-run double by junior designated hitter David Figoni, to end the southpaw’s outing and no-hit bid. Santa Barbara freshman shortstop Chris Valaika stroked a single off Irvine junior reliever Steve Schroer to cut the Anteaters’ lead to two, 5-3, but that was as close as UCSB would get as they stranded two runners in the eighth and went down in order in the ninth.
Swanson and company combined to whiff 14 Gauchos, and Irvine junior right-hander Brett Smith fanned 13 Thursday night, meaning that UCSB had struck out 27 times in the first two games of the series.
Determined to avoid starting conference competition 0-3, UCSB got the job done on Saturday one run at a time, putting up singles in each of the second, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth innings to pull away from Irvine gradually. Valaika highlighted the Gauchos’ two-run eighth with his fifth home run of the season, a titanic blast to left-center field.
After splitting 12 hits between the first two games, Santa Barbara bounced back with 15 hits in game three and got runners aboard in each inning.
“[Irvine] threw a lot of quality strikes, forcing us to be more aggressive with our swings,” Brontsema said. “We knew that we’d have to be able to swing the bats to score runs.”
Gaucho sophomore starter Steve Morlock was in good form, scattering eight hits through five innings while allowing only two runs, and he earned his sixth win of the season and fifth in his last six starts.
UCSB returns to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium for an eight-game homestand, beginning with Cal State Northridge (13-21 overall, 0-3 in the Big West) Tuesday and Westmont on Wednesday (7-29 overall, 2-18 in the Golden State Athletic Conference). Both games will begin at 2 p.m.