The UCSB baseball team kicked off Big West action this past weekend, dropping two out of three games to UC Riverside at home. After winning an 8-6 decision in the opener, the Gauchos (14-15 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) dropped the final two 13-4 Saturday and 8-1 Sunday.

In Friday’s game, the Highlanders struck first when Gaucho junior starter Andy Graham allowed four runs over the first two innings, putting Riverside up 4-1.

After cutting the lead to 4-2 in the fourth, UCSB batted around in the fifth, scoring six runs sparked by freshman third baseman Matt Clark’s two-run homer, the first of his career. Clark finished the day 2-4 at the plate, one of six Gauchos who tallied multiple hits. The big fifth inning would be enough for Santa Barbara and Graham to earn the win. The right-hander improved to 3-3 on the season, allowing five runs on six hits in eight innings.

“[Graham’s] history shows that he is a slow starter, but a strong finisher,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We kept it close, and then started to dominate. All of a sudden the offense picked him up, in the big fifth inning.”

Riverside senior starter Haley Winter shutdown the Gauchos on Saturday. Winter pitched seven innings giving up just three runs and six hits, while striking out eight. Gaucho starter junior Brian Tracy got into trouble early, giving up three runs in the first two innings. A seven-run fourth sealed the deal for the Highlanders, who recorded 16 hits and nine walks.

“We gave them a few extra opportunities,” Brontsema said. “We hurt ourselves in that inning.”

The Gauchos could only muster one run against stifling pitching from Riverside junior starter Taylor Bills on Sunday. In a complete game victory, Bills allowed just four hits and two walks and struck out five.

“Their pitching is pretty good,” Brontsema said. “The numbers prove that. And I think that they will continue to prove that.”

Riverside’s balanced attack came up with eight runs on 11 hits. In his second start of the season, junior southpaw Jeff Braun took the loss after pitching five innings, giving up four earned runs and walking five. The Highlanders outscored UCSB 21-5 over the final two games of the series.

The Gauchos continue Big West action Thursday, traveling to Stockton to face Pacific for a three-game series.