After soaring to an eight-game winning streak that included a sweep of Long Beach State, the UCSB baseball team (32-19, 9-9 in the Big West) lost its first conference series in two weeks to the unlikeliest of clubs.
In sinking to .500 in league play with a two-games-to-one series loss to struggling Pacific (20-30, 5-12 in the Big West), Santa Barbara also lost an opportunity to leap-frog Riverside and claim third place going into the final weekend of the regular season.
Tiger second-year third baseman Aaron Harper, the team’s go-to hitter, rose to the occasion in each game, delivering a one-out sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th to secure a 4-3 Pacific win in game one. The next afternoon, Harper slammed an 0-1 pitch from Gaucho senior reliever Ivan Ramirez off the scoreboard in left center field for a game-winning solo shot and a 5-4 Tiger victory.
Both walk-off plays erased effective Gaucho pitching by both starters and relievers, with sophomore right-hander Michael Martin and junior reliever Alex McRobbie falling victim to the late-inning heroics in game one. Martin and McRobbie combined for 8.2 innings of six-hit, three-run baseball, and Gaucho junior right-handed pitcher Nate Holguin came on in the bottom of the ninth and coaxed an inning-ending grounder out of Tiger right fielder Adam Ringer to end regulation.
Holguin loaded the bases with one out in the 10th and earned the loss when junior reliever Loren Fraser surrendered Harper’s sac fly.
Ramirez entered the second game of the series with the Gauchos trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh with one out, and after rolling up a double-play ball to end the seventh, he sailed through the eighth, yielding an inconsequential hit. UCSB clawed back for the tying run in its half of the ninth, scoring senior third baseman Nate Sutton on junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson’s two-out double, but Ramirez couldn’t force extra frames in his third inning of work.
The Gauchos recovered and won a 3-1 nail-biter in game three to remain alone in fourth place in the Big West. UCSB sophomore starter Steve Morlock extended his personal unbeaten streak to nine starts, limiting UOP to just three hits and an unearned run in seven innings of work to improve his record to 7-4. McRobbie appeared in the eighth with the Gauchos leading 2-1 and wiggled out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam to preserve the lead. McRobbie tossed a scoreless ninth to earn his second save of the season.
UCSB put up a run in the fifth inning on junior outfielder Matt Stevens’ RBI groundout, and followed up with single runs in the sixth and ninth innings on RBI singles by senior designated hitter Taylor Vogt and junior catcher Matt Kalafatis, respectively. The Gauchos scored all three runs off Pacific starter Andy Willick, who came one out from the complete-game loss, spreading out six UCSB hits.
Santa Barbara will close out the regular season with a three-game series at Cal Poly beginning Friday at 6:00 p.m.