In the Gauchos’ last two weekend series, dropping the third and final game only cost them a sweep of the opposition. In yesterday’s matchup with San Jose State, however, a Sunday setback cost them the series itself as the visiting Spartans snatched the 5-4 rubber match, marking only the second time that the UC Santa Barbara baseball team (21-12) has lost a series this season.
“It’s frustrating because it’s the third [Sunday game] in a row we’ve dropped,” senior centerfielder Brian Gump said. “We have the mentality of really wanting that last win, but we haven’t been able to bear down and get the big hits.”
Though the clutch hit never came in Sunday’s one-run loss, senior first baseman Eric Oliver (.288 average, 6 HR, 34 RBI) ensured that it made an appearance in Friday’s opener by rapping a game-winning single into right field in the bottom of the 11th inning. Before the Gauchos could walk off with the win, they found themselves in a back-and-forth battle just to make into extra innings.
Trailing by three runs in the fourth, a two-run double by junior second baseman Matt Valaika (.330 average, 2 HR, 27 RBI) teamed with a pair of Spartan errors allowed UCSB to take a 4-3 lead. After tacking on a solo run in the eighth, San Jose would reclaim the advantage by plating two more in the top of the ninth. Down but not out, a Santa Barbara club that was as resilient as it was lucky tied things up thanks to an RBI single from Gump (.333 average, 5 HR, 28 RBI) followed by a third error committed by the Spartan infield. After two shutout frames from junior closer David Meals, Oliver’s heroics took center stage in a thrilling 7-6 comeback.
“We knew we kind of escaped with the win, but were still satisfied with how things turned out,” sophomore starting pitcher Mario Hollands said. “After [Oliver’s] hit ended it, we had a lot of momentum and thought we were in position to win next two games.”
Despite a solid Saturday start from senior right-hander Zach Samuels, who kept his team close by allowing only three runs (two earned) through five and one-third innings, the UCSB offense was flustered by a pair of San Jose pitchers whose only blemish on the day was a two-run shot by sophomore right fielder Mark Haddow in the fourth. The Spartans would tack on a couple more runs off the Gaucho bullpen to put the final score at 5-2.
“All their starters did a great job,” Gump said. “They mixed pitches and speeds, and had really good control to both sides [of the plate] throwing their pitches for strikes.”
A dominant Saturday showing from the Spartan arms was no fluke, as a normally explosive Gaucho lineup was once again held in check on Sunday. For the third straight game, the home team would enter the ninth with the scoreboard in the opponent’s favor, but a confident Santa Barbara squad would aim for a repeat already with one walk-off under its belt.
Stepping up to the plate with one out and Gump on first, it was Oliver who would determine the game’s finish once again. Alas, another extra-inning fray would not be in the cards for the Gauchos, as Oliver struck out swinging before proceeding to obstruct the catcher’s throw on a Gump steal, leading to the third and final out of the inning.
“Initially I didn’t agree with the call, but I’m not a rulebook guy,” Gump said. After the game [Head Coach Bob Brontsema] said it was the correct call, but it’s still unfortunate that it had to end like that.”