Impressive pitching from the opposition and an inability to score enough runs saw UCSB (8-5 overall) drop two out of three to Houston (8-5) on the road at Cougar Stadium. Despite gritty efforts from all three of their starting pitchers and a huge weekend from junior right fielder Brian Gump, the Gauchos could only muster one win, a 9-7 Saturday thriller, against a well-matched Conference USA opponent. The Gauchos were limited in Friday’s opener and Sunday’s finale, losing 4-1 and 4-2 respectively.
“It doesn’t feel too good only coming out with one win,” Gump said. “We battled, but we hit a lot of balls right at people, and they [Houston] were really able to put things together.”
Stringing hits together was easily one of the key factors that slowed down the Santa Barbara offense, getting only five hits on Friday and leaving 11 runners on base on Saturday and Sunday. A strong eighth inning performance from Cougar sophomore Wes Musick set the tone for the Houston pitchers in Friday’s UCSB loss, and though the other Cougar pitchers were not overpowering, they were able to keep a dangerous Gaucho lineup off balance in big situations.
“[The Houston pitchers] pitched backwards all weekend, throwing a lot of off speed stuff late and behind in the count,” senior right hander Michael Martin said. “Our hitters made some adjustments, but we definitely left some guys on base in the later innings.”
The Gauchos didn’t have too much trouble bouncing back in Saturday’s game, exploding for 13 hits in support of redshirt freshman Mario Hollands, who bounced back in his own right after suffering his first loss of the season to Loyola Marymount. The lanky southpaw out of El Cerrito tossed seven strong innings while controlling all of his pitches effectively, allowing no walks with three strikeouts.
Multi-hit games from senior center fielder Chris Fox and sophomore shortstop Matt Valaika helped Hollands’ cause, but Gump was undoubtedly the top performer of the day, blowing up the stat sheet with five hits to go along with two runs, three RBI and two stolen bases. Gump, who bumped his average up to a team-leading .412 mark over the weekend, had eight hits in 12 at bats in the series.
The Gauchos carried their hot hitting into Sunday, out-hitting the Cougars nine to six, including multi-hit efforts from Fox and Gump, as well as a base hit from junior second baseman Shane Carlson that extended his season long hitting streak to 13 games. UCSB also received some help in the form of four Cougar errors, but simply could not capitalize with runners on base. Senior lefty Chuck Huggins did not have his best start, giving up four earned runs in five innings, but a scoreless three-inning relief appearance from Martin gave Santa Barbara a great chance to close a two-run Cougar lead.
Unfortunately for the Gauchos, senior left fielder Mike Zuanich, who’s less than stellar weekend dropped his average down to .250, grounded into a double play in the top of the ninth to end the Gauchos hopes of winning the game and the series.
“We’re never satisfied with only one win in a three games series,” Martin said. “We had a decent chance to win two, but we’ll try and get back on track Tuesday at Cal Poly.”