Senior first baseman Eric Oliver led the offensive attack in UCSB baseball’s Friday and Saturday wins over the visiting Pacific Tigers, going 4-for-8 with two home runs and six RBI, but the home cooking would simmer down as UOP shut down Santa Barbara in a 13-3 blowout on Sunday.
“We started off the game kind of slow and they [Pacific] went ahead early and never looked back,” senior shortstop Shane Carlson said.
In the series opener with the Tigers, it was UCSB acting the aggressor to go ahead early. In the first inning, Oliver (.307 average, 28 RBI) knocked in his first runs of the weekend, legging out a triple that scored junior left fielder Gunnar Terhune and senior center fielder Brian Gump. The stalwart first baseman outdid himself in the following frame, belting a three-run, opposite-field blast to help put the Gauchos up 7-0.
“I’ve always thought of Eric as one of our top hitters,” sophomore starter Mario Hollands said. “He had a slow start, but we’ve seen now how he can and will produce for the rest of the season.”
Though a resilient pack of Tigers would rally back to put the score at 9-7 heading into the top of the ninth, junior David Meals, UCSB’s regular ninth-inning man, would induce a double play after giving up a solo homer to edge Pacific in a 9-8 thriller.
Saturday afternoon’s contest was another grinder, but fueled by a two-hit, three-RBI showing from junior second baseman Matt Valaika (.318 average, 21 RBI), the Gauchos were able to win game two behind their second consecutive nine-run output.
A four-run explosion in the bottom of the sixth put Santa Barbara up for good while allowing Hollands to pick up his third win of the season. Junior reliever Zach Samuels would relieve the hard-throwing left-hander and close the door on the Tigers through the final two and one-third innings, recording his second save of the season in a 9-6 victory.
“Every game last year we worried about late-inning relief, but now that we have both Meals and Samuels, we’re confident whenever we go into the end of a game with a lead,” Carlson said.
Neither Meals nor Samuels would have a chance to save the Sunday series finale, as a revamped Pacific offense tallied runs in all but two innings to avoid a sweep.
“Every team in the Big West is getting stronger,” Hollands said. “It’s evident that these teams have gotten better over the past few years with the way both Pacific and Northridge have played in our games this season.”
After taking two out of three from the Tigers, the Gauchos will look to get back into the win column when they face off against Pepperdine this Tuesday at home, followed by a three-game conference test at UC Davis beginning Friday.
Though the offense will need to rebound after a sub-par Sunday performance, the key to the Gauchos’ success should lie in a return to form by their starting pitching. The normally lights-out weekend starters gave up a combined 16 earned runs through only 14 innings pitched against Pacific.
“It was no doubt an off weekend for the rotation, but next time we take the mound, the starting three should be back to normal,” Hollands said.