In a wild weekend series that featured 61 runs, 84 hits and 18 pitching changes, the UC Davis Aggies got the better of UC Santa Barbara two times out of three to claim the top spot in the Big West. The Gauchos (23-11 overall, 6-3 in the Big West) took Friday’s game one in an impressive showing, winning 9-2, but the Aggies (23-11, 5-1 Big West) struck back with high-scoring wins on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t win this weekend,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We were at home, and we let it get away.”

Sophomore ace Mike Ford got things started the right way for the Gauchos with a dominating performance on Friday afternoon. Ford threw eight innings of four-hit ball and only gave up two earned runs as the Gauchos came out swinging. Carried by the bats of junior center fielder Brian Gump and senior leftfielder Mike Zuanich, the Gauchos put up nine runs on the board. Zuanich had a particularly strong outing, going three-for-five with a pair of home runs.

After the Aggies took an early 1-0 lead, the Gauchos took advantage of some shoddy Davis fielding in the bottom of the second to jump out to a 4-1 advantage. This would prove to be all the run support Ford needed, but that was not going to stop the Gaucho bats from going to town on the UC Davis pitching staff. Zuanich hit his first home run of the game in the third inning, expanding the lead to four. In the fifth inning, a couple of RBI singles by junior shortstop Shane Carlson and senior third baseman Patrick Rose gave the Gauchos seven runs, which lasted only until Zuanich unloaded a two-run shot in the sixth. The Aggies would only muster one more run all game against the strong pitching of Ford (4-2) [[OK]] and the final score read 9-2. However, the Aggies would eclipse that Gaucho output in both games to follow, and the Gauchos would not be quite as successful.

As good as the Gauchos were in game one, the Aggies were even better in game two. Aggie starting pitcher Brad McAtee decimated the Gaucho lineup, going eight strong and allowing only one run. The Gaucho pitching, on the other hand, left something to be desired. Freshman Mario Hollands pitched solidly for the first part of the game, going three innings before surrendering a Davis run. In the fourth inning, the Aggies scored their first run and added a second run in the fifth. It was in the sixth inning that the game started getting out of hand. Three Gaucho pitchers combined to allow seven runs on three hits, three walks, two errors and two hit batsmen. Davis then continued the onslaught in the seventh, scoring another six runs and putting the game firmly out of reach. When all was said and done, the Aggies had put up 16 runs to the Gauchos’ 2, and the series was even. Junior first baseman Eric Oliver had the best day of any Gaucho, going 3-4 and contributing both of UCSB’s RBI.

The rubber match of the series proved to be much more exciting. The Gauchos got off to a hot start, scoring three runs in the bottom half of the first inning on RBI singles from Carlson and Rose. The lead did not last long though, as the Aggies raced back and took the lead in the third inning, 4-3. Junior infielder Steve Cook tied things up again for the Gauchos with an RBI single in the fifth, and the score remained 4-4 until the sixth inning. That’s when things got interesting. UCD put together a five-run sixth inning and the Gauchos looked to be out of it.

However, one run in the bottom of the sixth and a quick one-two-three inning in the top of the seventh resulted in a change in momentum, which UCSB quickly capitalized on. In the bottom of the seventh, Carlson and Rose continued their hot hitting and drove in one and two runs, respectively. Down 9-8, senior catcher Matt McColgan continued the rally with a two-run bomb over the left field fence to give the Gauchos the lead. Three Gaucho batters would get consecutive hits after McColgan, culminating in a six-run seventh and a 12-9 UCSB lead.

But just as the Gauchos did not quit when down big, neither did the Aggies. With two down in the eighth, the Aggies put together a run of their own, loading the bases and subsequently driving two runs home. But the rally stopped there, and the Gauchos had a chance to close out the game in the ninth inning. Santa Barbara reliever junior Jason Roenicke struck out the first two batters of the inning, and had a 0-2 pitch for the save.

At that point, when victory seemed imminent, fans at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium heard an Aggie coach yell out, “We’re far from done.” He was right. A double, a single and a defensive miscue later, the Gauchos found themselves down 13-12 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Sophomore designated hitter Gunner Terhune started things off well in the potential final frame for UCSB, reaching base with a single. He then advanced on a sacrifice bunt, and the Gauchos had the tying run in scoring position. After Cook popped out to second, Santa Barbara was down to its final out, but Gump delivered in the clutch, singling a dribbler past first base and scoring Terhune. The game would stay tied going into extra innings and through the 10th. However, the 11th would prove to be UCSB’s undoing. The Aggies continued swinging the bat well, and when combined with more Gaucho defensive mistakes, ended up putting five more runs on the board. While UCSB was able to retake one of those runs in the bottom of the 11th, the deficit proved too much to overcome.

“Obviously it wasn’t our best game defensively, but I think we learned from those mistakes,” Rose said. “It’s definitely a learning experience.”

Despite the difficult loss, the team’s attitude remained positive.

“I thought we competed incredibly well,” Brontesema said. “When we were down by four or five runs, we could have easily quit, but we didn’t.”

With the series loss, UCSB no longer holds the top spot in a very strong Big West conference. Moving down the stretch of conference play though, the Gauchos remain near the top and very much in position to make a move at the Big West title, which would be an incredible feat in this notorious powerhouse conference.

“From top to bottom, this Big West is unreal,” Terhune said. ” But I feel like we can be the top contender.”