On the eve of conference play, the UCSB baseball team put on one of its most dominating performances of the season. Junior starting pitcher Bryan Fleming allowed just two runs through seven innings and the Gauchos overwhelmed USC 9-2.
“The team is starting to put it together,” junior shortstop Chris Valaika said. “Our pitching and batting have both been a lot better.”
The Santa Barbara (13-13 overall) lineup had cranked out 42 runs in its last three games and continued its hot hitting early on against the Trojans (17-14). Five of the first six batters singled in the top of the first, including junior right fielder Mario Lewis’ two-run single, helping the Gauchos leap to an early 3-0 lead.
“It’s always great to get ahead off the bat,” Valaika said. “It gives the pitchers something to work with.”
USC trimmed the deficit to one with a solo homerun by junior center fielder Daniel Perales and an RBI single by sophomore third basemen Matt Cusick. However, Fleming picked up the win as he shut down the Trojans’ offense until junior reliever Justin Segal took over to throw a scoreless eighth. The game was called before USC came to the plate in the ninth inning.
“[Fleming] pitched great and has been consistent for us,” Valaika said. “He pitched well in Hawaii and it continued here.”
With the score 3-2, UCSB added runs in the fourth, six and seventh to extend the lead to 6-2 before taking over in the eighth. With one out, freshman catcher Chris McMurray singled, while USC freshman reliever John Dunn couldn’t find the plate, walking senior designated hitter A.J. Knox, sophomore second basemen Alden Carrithers and freshman leftfielder Brian Gump to plate one run. Valaika followed with a two-run double, giving the Gauchos a 9-2 lead.
“I think our offense is starting to turn it around and we’re going to need that in conference because everyone pitches well,” Valaika said.
Valaika finished with three RBIs on the day and leads the team with 30. Carrithers was stellar in the leadoff spot once again, walking twice and scoring three runs. With the scoreless eighth, Segal continued to be solid out of the bullpen and leads the staff with an ERA under two.
Santa Barbara has now won four straight, matching their longest winning streak of the year. The first pitch of Big West action comes this weekend as UC Riverside visits Caesar Uyesaka Stadium for a three-game weekend series.