The Jesusita Fire ravaging Santa Barbara forced Gaucho baseball to lose its home field advantage against Long Beach State this weekend, but the team still came through and kept their playoff hopes alive, sweeping the three-game series at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field for their fourth consecutive victory.
“We should’ve been home, we could’ve been home,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “But the Big West made a decision, so we tried to use it to motivate us. The fact is that [Goodwin Field] is a really nice place to play, especially if you’re not playing [#6] Fullerton.”
After the sweep, the Gauchos improved to 9-9 in the Big West, 27-19 overall, tying Long Beach for fourth place in the Big West.
In the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, Gauchos’ ace right-hander Joe Gardner threw a two-hit complete game shutout for a 3-0 victory to bring his record to 7-1. In the second game, UCSB broke out for 14 runs to back up right-hander Mario Hollands’ seven-inning effort, in which he allowed only two runs and struck out five [in the 14-4 win]. On Sunday, the Gauchos came back from a four-run deficit late in the game to win 11-9.
“I think our group is confident,” Brontsema said. “There was a tough stretch where we lost six, but I think our guys are playing loose, relaxed.”
In Sunday’s game, the Gauchos continued their latest habit of coming from behind with big-scoring final innings. The team was up 3-0 after the first inning and 4-2 after the fourth before Long Beach took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth. The 49ers’ Steve Tinoco brought in two runners on one hit to increase the lead to 7-4, and Kellen Holme hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth, making the score 8-4.
Then the Gauchos broke loose.
After Matt Valaika was hit by a pitch, senior left fielder John DeAlba, who went 3-4 on the day, singled. Next, shortstop Shane Carlson singled, bringing in Valaika. After Carlson’s hit, Mark Haddow singled himself, bringing in DeAlba, which proceeded two more UCSB hits. Four 49er relief pitchers and seven runs later, the score was 11-9 in the Gauchos’ favor.
“That’s the thing about this team,” senior center fielder Brian Gump said. “It’s real tough to get us down. The outfielders met up when [Gaucho relief pitcher David Meals] came in [in the eighth] and said we were gonna put up double digits. That’s when we were down four runs with two innings left. We were relaxed. Everyone felt like it was going to happen.”
Junior third basemen Ryan Cavan hit three RBI in the game. Five of the first seven hitters in the Gaucho lineup brought in runs. Steve Cook, DeAlba and Carlson each hit two RBI.
“[Long Beach] got pretty beat up this weekend,” Gump said. “We kind of abused their bullpen.”
The Gauchos now have two more series left to play, one at UC Riverside beginning on May 15 and the other at home against #1 UC Irvine.
“Basically, it’s the playoffs from here on out,” Gump said. “It happens every time a team’s on the bubble. But we’re having fun with it.”