A disappointing baseball season came to an appropriate end for the Gauchos on Sunday, with Cal Poly using a late-inning rally to complete a three-game sweep.
The themes that dominated the season for UCSB (23-31 overall, 9-12 in the Big West) held true over the weekend as the Mustangs took all three games in a last ditch attempt to clinch a postseason berth. Santa Barbara’s season has been dominated by inconsistent starting pitching, poor relief pitching, and unbelievable performances by senior first baseman Robbie Blauer, and all three themes showed up in the season ending series.
Sunday’s season finale proved to be a perfect microcosm for the season as a whole, as senior southpaw Jeff Braun turned in a strong performance only to see the bullpen melt down. Braun gave up three runs over seven innings to lower his ERA to 6.16 in a season where he finished with a 2-7 record. Braun gave way to senior right-hander Steve Morlock, who gave up two runs as the Gauchos fell 5-3.
The Gauchos dropped Saturday’s game 5-1 despite racking up nine hits. Blauer and senior right fielder Mario Lewis led the way with two hits apiece, but the offense never quite clicked as nine runners were left on base. Three pitchers combined to hold the Mustangs to four runs, including senior right-hander Justin Segal who finished his career as UCSB’s career appearance leader. A former walk-on, Segal picked up eight saves this season to finish with 15 overall, one shy of the school record. The submariner also finished as the team leader in ERA, with a 4.60 ERA in 33 games.
“He had some up-and-down outings for us, but he was still the guy that we had the most confidence in,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said.
UCSB fell behind 8-0 in Friday’s season-opener, before staging a comeback attempt that fell just short in the bottom of the ninth. Trailing 12-7 entering the final frame, the Gauchos scored four runs to get within one run of the Mustangs, but the tying run was stranded on first as the Mustangs pulled out a 12-11 victory. Freshman right-hander Mike Ford gave up seven runs, but only one of them was earned as he finished the season 2-2 with a 5.05 ERA. Ford’s 68 strikeouts led the team, making him the first freshman to accomplish that feat since Barry Zito in 1997.
“With the amount of injuries that we’ve had, we had to juggle things and he’s been our most consistent starter,” Brontsema said. “He’s done a really good job for us.”
Blauer picked up a hit in all three games to finish the season with a 22 game hitting streak, one short of his season opening streak of 23 games. Overall, Blauer picked up a hit 51 of 54 games that UCSB played this season.
The Gauchos finished sixth in the Big West, behind Cal Poly and four teams that earned bids to the NCAA Regionals. Big West Champion UC Riverside (37-19, 16-5 Big West) will be joined in the tournament by Long Beach State (37-18, 15-6 Big West), UC Irvine (40-15-1, 15-6 Big West) and Cal State Fullerton (33-23, 10-11 Big West).
“I thought Irvine had the inside track at the beginning of the year but Riverside has been really consistent,” Brontsema said. “We’re in one of the top four conferences in the country and it’s really showed this season.”