After a hard-fought series and some of the best baseball of the season, the UCSB baseball team stole one game from #4 Cal State Fullerton over the weekend.
The Gauchos (20-23 overall, 6-9 in the Big West) fell behind early in the opener before losing 5-3, smashed their way to an 8-2 Saturday win, and could not hold on to a ninth inning lead, losing the finale 7-5.
“I think we played great as a whole,” junior shortstop Chris Valaika said. “They are a great team but I think we outplayed them every game.”
Junior pitcher Andy Graham cruised through the first 4.2 innings Friday before junior shortstop Blake Davis reached on a throwing error by Valaika. After a walk by Graham, senior left fielder Danny Dorn grounded a ball that took a tricky hop over the head of sophomore second basemen Alden Carrithers to bring in a run, and sophomore right fielder Jared Clark followed a two run double to give the Titans (35-12, 12-3 Big West) a 4-0 lead.
The lead was more than enough for sophomore Big West ERA and strikeout leader Wes Roemer, who held Santa Barbara to three runs on seven hits and came within one out of a complete game.
“We had some good swings off him but he had good defense behind him and he located well,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “I thought we competed pretty well offensively all things considered.”
The Gauchos got another quality start from junior pitcher Jeff Braun as he held the potent Fullerton offense to two runs through six innings of work. It was Braun’s fourth-straight no decision but UCSB has won his last three starts.
“He did everything he could to keep us in the game and that’s what we need to do,” Brontsema said. “We need to get that type of pitching performance and we’ve got it the last two days.”
Brontsema inserted Valaika into the two hole and put senior center fielder Matt Emerick behind him to change up the lineup Saturday, but the Gauchos found themselves trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh. But with one out, Valaika mashed his eighth home run of the year, scoring Carrithers and freshman catcher Chris McMurray. Valaika added a two-run single in the eighth, giving him five RBI on the day. Junior first basemen Robbie Blauer chipped in three of the 12 Santa Barbara hits.
“I struggled the first couple of innings and I’m just happy that I could help my team,” Valaika said. “I’ve been struggling with the bat and not doing everything that I could and that’s brought the team down a little bit.”
Trailing 4-0 in the sixth on Sunday, the UCSB offense finally got to work. McMurray singled and Carrithers followed with a walk before Valaika drilled a two-run double, and Blauer added a run-scoring single to cut the deficit to one. After Valaika drove in another run in the seventh to tie the game at four, junior pinch hitter Brian Lee gave the Gauchos the lead with a sacrifice fly to score Emerick as Santa Barbara took a 5-4 lead.
Junior reliever Justin Segal, who took the mound with one out in the seventh, struggled in the ninth. After retiring the first batter Segal gave up a single, a walk and a run-scoring single to senior second basemen Justin Turner to tie the game. Two batters later, junior first basemen Brett Pill delivered a two-run triple as the Titans took a 7-5 lead that they would not relinquish.
“[Segal’s] been our best guy and we’re going to live and die with him in that situation,” Brontsema said. “If we had to do it over again we would want him in that situation, no question about it.”
UCSB next hosts UCLA this Tuesday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.