The Gaucho offense flexed its muscles in Davis this past weekend, punching out 40 hits over a three-game span to achieve its second straight Big West series victory. However, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team (19-10 overall, 5-4 in the Big West) also had the final game of the series slip away for the second consecutive weekend, losing a 9-8 nail-biter on Saturday after convincing 8-3 and 14-1 routes on Thursday and Friday respectively.
“It’s very frustrating when you win the first two [games] but can’t pull out the third,” senior centerfielder Brian Gump said. “It especially hurts this year because we have really high expectations for ourselves.”
Though UCSB might not have met expectations as a team by missing the series sweep, junior starter Joe Gardner (5-0, 3.14 ERA) certainly met expectations by returning to dominance in the series opener, allowing only two runs through eight innings with seven strikeouts following a shaky outing last Friday. The offense’s eight runs provided more than enough cushion for the hard-throwing right-hander, as Gardner and the Gauchos cruised to an 8-3 win.
“He [Gardner] wasn’t at his best last week, but we all expected him to do come back and do great for us,” Gump said. “He went right after hitters, threw first-pitch strikes … he was outstanding.”
The momentum from Gardner’s excellence carried straight over to Friday afternoon, as sophomore starter Mario Hollands (4-2, 3.86 ERA) threw zeros on the scoreboard through the first three innings, rebounding from a rough start much like his rotation mate. Unfortunately for Hollands, a hard-hit line drive would find its way to his lower extremities in the fourth, taking the breath away from the left-hander and his teammates in both a literal and figurative sense.
“I got hit in a very painful area,” Hollands said. “It was hit so fast I didn’t even see it come at me.”
“It gave me a stomachache watching that happen,” Gump said. “It was a direct hit, and pitchers typically don’t wear cups.”
After a very scary moment for all parties involved, Hollands exited the game, giving way to junior reliever Clayton Edwards followed by senior reliever Patrick McIntyre, who combined to two-hit the Aggies through the final five and two-thirds innings. For the second day in a row, the Gauchos mustered plenty of offense behind the lights-out pitching, knocking in 14 runs while leaving only seven runners on base.
“I think everyone’s seeing the ball a little better,” Hollands said. “They were swinging the bats well the whole weekend.”
Though the hit parade did not let up in Saturday’s finale as the Gauchos tallied double digits yet again, the timely hitting was a bit lacking with 13 runners left on base throughout the game. Trailing by three entering the ninth inning, UCSB loaded the bases with nobody out, but could only drive in two runs by way of base on balls before UC Davis closer Scott Lyman ended the threat by inducing senior first baseman Eric Oliver into a game-ending flyout.
Gump, who led the Gaucho attack in the series going 8-for-14 with five runs, three RBI and four stolen bases, is convinced that the best is yet to come for the Santa Barbara bats.
“We still haven’t hit our stride,” Gump said. “We are learning and making the necessary adjustments as we get more at bats, and as we do this, more of us will continue getting hot.”