The first inning set the tone in each of the Gauchos’ three wins against Cal State Northridge this weekend. UCSB (30-17, 8-7 in the Big West) greeted the Matadors (16-33, 2-13) with a total of 18 runs in the first innings of Friday’s 11-3 victory and Saturday and Sunday’s identical 13-6 scores.
CSUN got on the board first in game one of the series on a sacrifice fly by sophomore designated hitter Luke Riordan in the top of the first inning for a 1-0 lead, its only advantage of the series. The Gauchos brought two around to score in their half of the first on RBI singles by junior second baseman Chris Malec and junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson, and added five more in the second inning for a comfortable 7-1 lead.
Wilkerson blasted a pair of two-run homers with sophomore left fielder Bill Rowe on base and had five RBIs in the Gauchos’ game two romp. Rowe had three hits himself, and senior third baseman Nate Sutton and senior outfielder Brian Adams connected for back-to-back home runs in the eighth to round out Santa Barbara’s offense.
“I’ve been seeing the ball really well lately, and [Northridge] had been giving us pitches to hit,” Wilkerson, who finished the weekend with seven hits and eight RBIs, said.
Wilkerson bounced back from an absolutely horrid weekend against Long Beach State that saw him go one-for-13 with nine strikeouts.
“You’ve got to take strikeouts with Wilkerson, but he’s also capable of carrying the team,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “When he’s hot, that’s a very important bat to have in the lineup.”
Santa Barbara busted loose with 11 runs in the first inning of Sunday’s contest, sending 16 men to the plate and collecting eight hits. Rowe and Malec each had two hits in the first frame, and senior first baseman Greg Powers drove in three runs in two at-bats before the first three outs were made.
Northridge senior right-hander Nathan Hochgesang came on in relief in the second inning and held the Gauchos to one hit through his first four innings of work, but UCSB finally caught up with him, lacing three straight hits for two runs in the sixth inning. The Matadors got as close as 11-6 after five innings, and their relief after the first inning held the Gauchos seven hits and two runs.
“That was as bad a first inning as I’ve ever seen, and to [Northridge’s] credit, they really battled back from it,” Brontsema said. “This is a tough game because you lose your edge; you don’t want to run or let them back in it. You think about what you don’t want to do instead of getting at it.”
The Gaucho staff pitched effectively despite dealing with huge leads and long innings on the bench all weekend. Sophomore starter Michael Martin earned his ninth win of the season and first in over a month with seven strong innings in game one. Sophomore Steve Morlock was not as fortunate as Martin in game three, however; he lasted into the fifth but was bailed out by junior reliever Loren Fraser and thus not considered for the win.
Freshman Andy Graham evened his record at 4-4 with five-plus innings of work in game two, and junior right-hander Alex McRobbie was on hand to save the day with four innings to close out the game.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get the win for Morlock, but the Gauchos got the ‘W’, and that’s what’s important,” Brontsema said. “Graham wasn’t as sharp as he was last weekend, but his job is to get outs and compete, and he did that for us.”
Santa Barbara’s bullpen continued its excellent work, limiting the Matadors to two runs in 11 innings while fanning eight.
UCSB will host Pepperdine on Tuesday at 2 p.m. for the tail end of a three-game series that was split up by rain in February. The nonconference contest will be the Gauchos’ last home game of the season.