SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Every inning of every baseball game this season was meaningful in the Gauchos’ quest for a postseason berth, but a few bad ones strung together Sunday at Cal Poly made the top of the ninth inning the last one in 2004. Santa Barbara (33-21, 10-11 in the Big West) lost its final regular-season series to the Mustangs two games to one, sandwiching a 17-6 win between 5-2 and 11-8 losses.
Gaucho sophomore right-hander Steve Morlock toed the rubber in game three with the balance of the season on his shoulders and retired the first seven hitters he faced. The Mustangs capitalized on three walks and a timely two-out, two-run single by Cal Poly sophomore designated hitter Brandon Roberts to break up the no-hit bid. UCSB had plated three runs by that point on an RBI single by sophomore center fielder Matt Emerick and a subsequent two-run homer by junior catcher Matt Kalafatis.
Santa Barbara held a 5-4 lead in the fifth inning thanks to solo shots by junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson and senior designated hitter Taylor Vogt, with each player hitting his team-leading ninth-round tripper of the season. Morlock set down the first two Mustangs in the bottom of the fifth but came unraveled again, issuing a walk and surrendering an infield hit to spell the end of his day. Mustang junior left fielder Kyle Blumenthal knocked Gaucho senior reliever Ivan Ramirez’s first offering into right field for a two-run single to give Cal Poly a lead it would not relinquish.
“[Morlock] wasn’t really sharp in [the third] inning, but he still had pretty good stuff,” UCSB Pitching Coach Dan Ricabal said. “We talked about mechanical things between innings, but he couldn’t get the ball over the plate and started pressing a bit.”
Cal Poly (38-21-1, 10-11 in the Big West) was relentless, scoring three runs in the sixth and another in the eighth. Of the 11 Mustang runs, eight of them were scored with two outs. Blumenthal had three hits and six RBIs to pace the Mustangs and junior Tony Saipe provided an effective bridge of relief pitching, holding the Gauchos at bay until the eighth inning when Santa Barbara pulled behind, 10-8.
The first two UCSB hitters reached base in the ninth, but Mustang senior relief ace Nolan Moser struck out the side to end the threat.
“I don’t think that we played our best game today, and it’s disappointing that we lost,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said of a Gaucho team that committed three errors, walked eight Mustangs and left eight men on base. “I thought we played hard, and [the loss] was not because of a lack of effort.”
Mustang junior right-hander Jimmy Shull held the Gauchos to two runs on seven hits in Cal Poly’s 5-2 win in game one. Cal Poly held a 6-4 lead after six innings in the second game before UCSB exploded for seven runs in the seventh and five in the eighth to walk away with a 17-6 drubbing. Emerick enjoyed the finest weekend at the plate for Santa Barbara, earning seven hits, scoring five times and driving in four runs, and Kalafatis ended the year going five for 10 with five runs and five RBIs.
For the first time in three seasons, the Gauchos were playing with realistic postseason hopes until the last pitch of the season was made. This year’s experience will surely show up in next season’s race.
“We’re really excited about the guys coming back,” Ricabal said. “Every game was a big ball game, and we learned some valuable lessons and had tremendous experiences.”