Heading into Wednesday’s afternoon showdown at San Diego State, UCSB baseball had its sights set on exacting revenge on a team that beat them at home 7-4 only one day prior. Thanks in large part to a pair of longballs off the bats of sophomore right fielder Mark Haddow and junior second baseman Matt Valaika, the #19 Gauchos (15-8 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) settled the score with a convincing 15-8 blowout in the second act of the midweek series, putting an end to its season-high three game losing streak in the process.
“Today’s win was huge in getting us back on track,” senior center fielder Brian Gump said. “It would have been nice to get two [wins], but unfortunately some things didn’t go our way in the first game so we had to battle back just to get the [series] split.”
Santa Barbara took little time resurrecting their high-scoring offense that had been held in check over its recent skid, erupting with seven runs in the second inning including a two-run homer by Haddow followed by a three-run shot from Valaika. Valaika, one of the seven Gaucho starters to come through with multi-hit performances, finished with four runs batted in to bring his season total to 18.
“Everybody picked each other up by stringing hits together,” senior first baseman Eric Oliver said. “[The Aztec pitchers] were making good pitches, but we were able to make solid contact, especially Matt [Valaika] when he hit that bomb.”
Oliver had quite a game himself, finishing with four hits and three RBI, which will perhaps get the “Big Cat” going just in time for conference play after a relatively slow start to the season by his estimation.
“I’ve struggled through the first half of season, but today I felt really good at the plate,” Oliver said.
A combination of UCSB relievers did a respectable job keeping the Aztec offense at bay, highlighted by sophomore pitcher Greg Davis, who got the nod to start game two against San Diego State. Davis was impressive in his first start of the season, returning strong from a freak injury that had left him sidelined by limiting SDSU to one run over four innings.
“Greg did a good job today working out of jams, making the big pitches when it mattered most,” Gump said.
After recovering the second leg of their brief mid-week series, the Gauchos return home to host Pacific this weekend in their first home conference series of the season. Despite a disappointing series loss to Northridge to open Big West play last weekend, UCSB is confident in its ability to tame the Tigers from up north if they have a repeat showing of the skill they displayed in yesterday’s victory.
“If we can come out like we came out today, playing defense and hitting the ball the way we did, I know we can bounce back and hopefully go for the sweep,” Oliver said.