The UCSB Athletics Dept. made a statement for Breast Cancer Awareness Tuesday afternoon in Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, having all members of the baseball team don pink hats and armbands in a home game against the UCLA Bruins. Fueled by an upset loss to an underdog St. Louis team this past Sunday, the Gauchos made a meaningful statement of their own, launching three tape measure home runs in a gritty 7-6 victory over a team ranked #9 in the country.

“We know we’re capable of beating any team in the nation, but to come out and actually do it in such a close game really means a lot to our confidence,” senior shortstop Shane Carlson said.

The team morale took an early hit in the 2009 debut of junior ace Mike Ford. The hard-throwing right hander opened the mid-week matchup by giving up a walk followed by back-to-back jacks, putting his team in an early 3-0 rut.

After a rocky first inning, pressure took no time to rediscover the All-Big West Second Team selection, as Ford loaded the bases in the second frame to put the game one swing away from getting out of hand. But with three runners on, UCLA’s Casey Haerther, who homered off Ford in the first, shot a line drive that found its way to senior center fielder Brian Gump to end the inning.

“It wasn’t a lack of stuff today … [Ford] might have just been trying to do a little too much in his first start of the season,” Gump said. “Once he settled down he was his normal self again, and kept us in the game.”

True to form, Ford’s arsenal of pitches began to find their mark as the game progressed, as he allowed only one run over his next three innings. Be that as it may, the Gaucho offense was not prepared to let its work horse pitch without a chance to win.

After two of his teammates got on base to open up the bottom of the second, third baseman Robby Cummings promptly tied the score at 3-3 with a deep blast to dead center field. Not to be outdone, Gump, who had already went yard twice in three games before entering yesterday’s contest, launched a no doubter down the right field line to lead off the third.

“As the leadoff hitter, it’s my job to get on base, not to hit home runs,” Gump said. “I’m just trying to get the right pitch, and I’ve been getting it.”

Gump showed off his versatility only two innings later, laying down a well-placed sacrifice bunt that allowed sophomore right fielder Mark Haddow to advance to second before stealing third. With the game knotted at four apiece, junior left fielder Gunnar Terhune singled home Haddow to break the tie before trotting around the bases two at-bats later ahead of Carlson, who accounted for UCSB’s third homer of the day.

Despite a team power display that he finished off in the fifth, Carlson maintains that the Gaucho’s focus rests with much more than just driving the ball.

“We don’t have a big power guy, but we’re not too worried about that. The lineup we have can put up plenty of runs by hitting with average,” Carlson said.

The long ball was not limited to just the Gauchos on Tuesday, as UCLA’s Eddie Murray hit his team’s third and final homer leading off the sixth inning against newly inserted reliever David Meals. Much like it did with Ford, the Bruin offense feasted on Meals from the get go, scoring two runs off four hits in the sixth before a double play ball bailed the right-hander out of trouble.

“[Meals] got in some trouble but kept battling and never gave up,” Gump said. “He has a warrior mentality.”

The junior transfer’s determination kept the faith of Head Coach Bob Brontsema, who stayed with Meals through to end of the game. Brontsema’s patience would be rewarded, as the final out of the ballgame was made on a spectacular defensive play by the pitcher on an agile move off the mound.

The exciting ending capped off a tremendous early season win for UCSB in which every starter recorded at least one hit.

“It was a real statement game for us, but more importantly it was great team win where everybody contributed,” Gump said.

The statement was loud and clear ─ the Gauchos have the potential to become a contender on the national level in 2009. And they can do it wearing pink.