Even in the world of sports all good things must come to an end.
The UCSB baseball team (26-28 overall, 9-12 in the Big West) dropped its first series since the beginning of May, ending the run that brought the Gauchos within a shot of third place heading into the final weekend of the season. Santa Barbara banged its way to an 11-6 opening win over Cal Poly (29-27, 10-11 Big West), but fell 4-1 and 8-6 in the final two games of the year.
“This weekend was the difference from being .500 or not,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It would have been a nice reward to finish above it.”
Junior pitcher Andy Graham continued his late season success, holding the Mustangs to three runs through eight innings to pick up his sixth win. Freshman designated hitter Matt Clark turned in his best performance in a UCSB uniform, belting his second home run of the year amid a three-hit day while knocking in five RBI. Senior center fielder Matt Emerick also tallied three hits to start off his final weekend as a Gaucho.
“Andy won four games in conference on Fridays and kept us in many games,” Brontsema said. “Its tough and important to pitch well on Fridays and he gave us nice starts to the weekend all year long.”
Santa Barbara’s hope for a third-straight series win ran into a roadblock against Cal Poly’s junior pitcher Gary Daley, Jr. Daley shut the Gauchos out through eight innings, holding the squad to just four hits. Junior pitcher Jeff Braun continued his quality late season showing, allowing three runs through five innings, but the UCSB offense could not crack one of the best pitchers in the Big West.
“He had stuff as good as we’ve seen since Cal,” Brontsema said. “In terms of stuff he was outstanding. His breaking ball was sharp and hard.”
Three straight hits off the bats of junior first basemen Robbie Blauer, Emerick and freshman third baseman Shane Carlson resulted in three first inning runs for the Gauchos, but the Sunday tandem of junior pitchers Brian Tracy and Bryan Fleming could not contain the Mustangs. The pair squandered a 5-0 lead and each allowed four runs as Cal Poly rallied for three in the fourth and four in the sixth for the victory.
A Santa Barbara sweep would have earned them a tie for third, but the squad has to settle instead for a tie for fifth with Pacific and UC Riverside.
“We’ve talked from the beginning about how we want to emphasize the process of getting better and we’ve gotten better as a team,” Brontsema said.
Missing from the Caesar Uyesaka Stadium outfield grass next year will be Emerick, the local from Santa Barbara High School. Emerick’s .325 average ranked fourth on the team and he was one of the most consistent hitters throughout the season.
“He has the most experience of anyone having played three years and it showed in his play,” Brontsema said. “There was a stretch where he was hitting the ball on the screws every time up and his confidence showed.”
The status of several players remains in limbo until the arrival of the Major League Baseball draft, but the squad should return its young core and be a Big West contender next season.