After an explosive beginning to its first conference series of the season that saw the #19 UC Santa Barbara baseball team plate 21 runs in a Friday victory, the Gauchos’ (14-7 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) red-hot hitting came to a screeching halt in the final two games at Cal State Northridge, adding up to an underwhelming six combined runs in a 9-4 loss on Saturday before a 3-2 heartbreaker in Sunday’s finale.

“We know every opponent in the Big West is going to come at us very hard and every series going to be tough, but it [losing the series] still came as a surprise,” senior center fielder Brian Gump said.

UCSB’s first action against a Big West foe could not have begun any better, with the road team banging out 20 hits on the way to a comfortable 21-12 victory over the Matadors (11-14 overall, 2-1 in the Big West). With nine Gauchos tallying a run batted in, Santa Barbara flashed its potent lineup that has averaged nearly eight runs a game so far this season. Junior catcher Marty Mullins (.362 average, 12 RBI) led the way in the offensive onslaught, going a perfect 5-for-5 on the way to a 7-for-11 weekend at the plate.

“He [Mullins] stepped straight into the role [of starting catcher] and has exceeded everybody’s expectations,” senior designated hitter Shane Carlson said. “No pitch this weekend could get by Marty … he hit some rockets and really
smacked the ball around.”

In game two, the Gaucho offense could only muster four runs on six hits, a total that put sophomore starter Mario Hollands in line for the win after another quality start from the reigning Big West Rookie Pitcher of the Year. In the final two innings, however, junior closer David Meals, a normally reliable option out of the bullpen, was put through the wringer for six runs over the final two innings to set up a Sunday rubber match.

“Obviously we didn’t expect him to come in and get knocked around, but relievers have those days,” Gump said. “He threw his pitches, but Northridge did a good job making solid contact.”

Though solid contact was the Matadors’ formula for success on Saturday, it was almost the home team’s undoing in yesterday’s deciding contest. Junior starter Mike Ford exited with no outs in the ninth inning after allowing runners on first and second with the score knotted at 2-2. Junior reliever Clayton Edwards would enter the game, trying to weather the storm, and got just what the doctor ordered with a hard bunt back to the mound. Unfortunately for Edwards and Santa Barbara, the right hander’s throw over to third base to gun down the lead runner was wide right, allowing the winning run to cross home plate.

Though it would be easy to handcuff the series loss to a shaky bullpen, the area that UCSB struggled most in its 2008 campaign, the Gauchos place a lot of blame on their inability to produce timely hitting.

“In the last two games we didn’t string our hits together, couldn’t move our runners over … we really just lacked execution,” Carlson said.

With San Diego State coming into town on Tuesday in a 2 p.m. game at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, Santa Barbara will look to regroup in front of the hometown faithful. Fortunately for the Gauchos, it is doubtful that their offense will have to rebound against a fastball in triple digit miles per hour, as college baseball’s top pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg is unlikely to start in the upcoming midweek matchup.