It’s the at bat every young baseball player dreams of: a home run with the bases loaded in the ninth to put your team ahead for the win. For junior right fielder Brian Gump, that dream became a reality on Sunday.
On a day where the UCSB leadoff hitter already had a single, a double and two stolen bases, Gump came through with a grand slam against rival Cal Poly (18-22 overall, 6-9 in the Big West) with the Gauchos (29-13 overall, 8-4 in the Big West) trailing 3-1 in the top of the ninth.
“It was pretty amazing,” Gump said. “I was going into it thinking it was going to be first-pitch fastball inside, and when it came I was ready for it.”
Gump’s fourth home run of the season set the table for senior pitcher Michael Martin in the bottom half of the inning, where the Gaucho’s regular mid-week starter retired the Mustangs in order to give UC Santa Barbara the deciding win in a three-game conference series on the road.
“That jimmy-jack was unreal,” redshirt freshman starter Mario Hollands said. “I almost pissed my pants I was so excited.”
Though the momentum was clearly with UCSB following their comeback win in Sunday’s finale, it looked as though Cal Poly would continue their historical success against the Gauchos after a ninth inning rally of their own in Friday’s series opener.
With the game tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, sophomore ace Mike Ford (5-3, 2.84 E.R.A) would find himself in a jam with one out and a runner on third, attempting to pitch a complete game for his second consecutive start. This time, it would be the Mustang’s junior right fielder Ryan Lee coming through with the game-winning hit, bunting Ford’s final pitch of the game down the first base line to score the winning run for Cal Poly 3-2.
“We hit a lot of balls hard right at people, and were one big knock away for the entire game,” Gump said.
In game two on Saturday, the Gaucho bats would come to life in support of the left-handed Hollands (5-2, 3.12 E.R.A), highlighted by senior left fielder Mike Zuanich’s Big West leading 12th home run in the third and junior catcher Chris McMurray’s bases clearing triple in the fifth that propelled Santa Barbara to an 8-4 victory. Hollands did not let the offensive showcase go to waste, notching his fifth win in six innings of work, giving up two runs while striking out five.
“I had a little trouble in the first inning finding my command and making the right pitches,” Hollands said. “The rest of the way I was able to hit my targets and not give up any more runs.”
In Sunday’s finale, it would be another low-scoring affair as the pitching of senior southpaw Chuck Huggins (7-1, 3.38 E.R.A.) for the Gauchos and sophomore right-hander Steven Fischback for the Mustangs would keep both lineups in check. Despite lasting seven innings and giving up only three runs, Huggins would be out-dueled by the Cal Poly flamethrower, as Fischback struck out nine in eight innings of work before being replaced in the final frame in favor of starter turned closer. Mauldin D.J. Mauldin would struggle in relief, allowing four Gaucho hitters to reach base before Gump’s heroics that would lead Santa Barbara to a crucial 5-3 win, marking the first time in five years that the Gauchos have claimed a three-game series from Cal Poly.