The Gauchos are taking this season one game at a time and scoring runs early in ball games one touchdown at a time. Santa Barbara (31-17, 8-7 in the Big West) used another early lead to down Pepperdine (23-26, 17-7 in the West Coast Conference) 10-3 in its last home game of the regular season.

UCSB has now scored 15 runs in the first innings of the last four games, and yesterday’s 9-0 advantage after two innings of play helped ice its eighth straight victory.

“We need to finish strong so that we don’t give the [NCAA selection] committee any doubt,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “To lose a midweek game would not have boded well for us.”

Junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson continued his offensive tear, sending the first pitch he saw from Pepperdine senior starter Brandon Boesch over the wall in left center field for a grand slam and a quick 4-0 Gaucho lead with one out in the first inning. Wilkerson rounded out the scoring for UCSB with a solo shot to straightaway center field in the sixth for his second multi-homer game within a week.

Wilkerson’s bases-full blast was his third consecutive round-tripper on a first pitch and his school-record third grand slam of the season. His sixth-inning home run was on an anticipated 0-2 changeup. He came up with runners on the corners in the second inning, and lifted a sacrifice fly, giving him a career-high six RBIs on the day.

“I’m trying not to think about anything that’s going to ruin what I have going right now at the plate,” said Wilkerson, who is hitting .563 with 13 RBIs in his last four games. “I just tried to be aggressive early in the count, and I had an idea of what they were throwing me and just stuck with it.”

The Waves mounted a rally against Gaucho freshman starter Brian Tracy, plating their only three runs of the game in the third inning thanks to three consecutive hits, the last one an RBI double by Pepperdine junior first baseman Steve Kleen. Tracy settled down and retired nine of the next 10 hitters he faced, adding up to a strong five-inning outing and his second win of the season.

Tracy gave way to junior reliever Nate Holguin, who set down all six hitters he faced in his two-inning stint, two of them on strikes. Senior lefty Ivan Ramirez plunked Waves freshman left fielder Luke Salas, but got the next three hitters out, and senior right-hander Aaron Jones worked around a ground-rule double for two strikeouts and a scoreless ninth.

“It was what we’d hoped for, that [Tracy] would go five, and he went a quality five,” Brontsema said. “We were able to use our pen the way we planned to. Holguin looked great with a great sink on his fastball, and Jones worked himself back into the mix.”

Gaucho freshman shortstop Chris Valaika had three hits, and senior designated hitter Greg Powers, senior catcher Taylor Vogt, and sophomore center fielder Matt Emerick each had two to back up Wilkerson’s fantastic performance. Santa Barbara is now 19-0 when it scores in double digits heading into the final two weeks of the season, and has scored 10 or more in each of its last four games.

“Physically and mentally, it’s all clicking right now,” Wilkerson said. “Everyone’s starting to feel good and everyone’s on the same page as far as sticking to their approach.”