In a prime opportunity to rise to the top of the Big West conference standings, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team could not come away with the weekend series at home, dropping two out of three to #12 Cal State Fullerton. The lone win of the series for the Gauchos (30-16 overall, 9-5 in the Big West) would come on Saturday as redshirt freshman Mario Hollands pitched his first collegiate complete game, giving up only four hits while striking out five to lead UCSB to a 10-2 victory over the Titans (29-16 overall, 12-5 in the Big West).
“Mario was awesome and didn’t seem to care that he was pitching against a nationally ranked team,” junior right fielder Brian Gump said. “When our starters go all nine, they’re showing everybody their competitiveness and sacrificing for the team.”
Sophomore ace Mike Ford (5-3, 2.93 E.R.A.) showed off his competitive side in the series opener Friday afternoon at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, limiting a dangerous Titan offense to three runs through seven innings. Ford would exit with no outs in the eighth in line for the win with a one-run lead, but the Gaucho bullpen could not hold on in the final two frames, giving up four runs on the way to a 7-4 loss.
“We’re still looking for more consistency with the bullpen, trying to find the right guys for the right situations.” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said.
The bullpen would not have a chance to make amends on Saturday, as Hollands (6-2, 2.97 E.R.A.) would go the distance in game two, tripping up the Titan lineup with great location on every pitch in his arsenal. The Gaucho offense that failed to rally late in Friday’s contest came back in support of the southpaw on Saturday, exploding for 14 hits, five of which belonged to junior shortstop Shane Carlson (.322 average, 42 RBI). Carlson’s perfect five-for-five day from the plate was capped off by a three-run homer in the bottom of the second that gave Hollands a six -run lead and plenty of run support to work with for the remainder of the game.
“Shane’s been doing it for us all year long hitting and with the glove,” senior centerfielder Chris Fox said. “It was great to get Mario a lead in that game even though it didn’t look like he was going to let up.”
With the series tied one to one and both teams vying for the top position in the conference, the pitching of Fullerton’s Sunday starter Cory Arbiso would prove too much for UCSB to handle with the Titans pounding the home team, 11-1. The crafty right hander miffed the Gaucho bats through eight innings allowing only one run, a solo shot in the fifth off the bat of junior catcher Chris McMurray.
“[Arbiso] knew how to pitch each of us individually and found holes in our swings,” Fox said. “He threw a lot of off-speed stuff, which is how we’ve been pitched a lot of this year.”
Senior lefthander Chuck Huggins (7-2, 4.04 E.R.A.) did not have his best stuff in his Sunday start, allowing seven runs in five innings. The usually effective fly ball pitcher left a couple of his off-speed pitches up in the zone, leading to two Titan homers before his early exit.
“A couple of pitches didn’t go his way, and they [Fullerton] were making good contact on his secondary stuff,” Gump said.
The series loss to the Titans drops Santa Barbara into a third-place tie with UC Davis and Long Beach State, the conference opponent UCSB will be facing this upcoming weekend. Although the Gauchos’ rise to the top of the Big West suffered a temporary setback at the hands of perennial power Fullerton, the team remains confident in its ability to compete for the conference title and make it into the postseason.
“No matter what Fullerton does the rest of the way, we still have a shot at the Big West Title,” Gump said. “We’ve put ourselves in good position. … All we have to do is go out and play our game.”