UCSB baseball’s four-game winning streak ended this weekend at UC Riverside, after the team suffered losses in the first two games of the series before winning 6-4 on Sunday afternoon at the Riverside Sports Complex.
Ranked 81st in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index heading into the weekend series, the Gauchos (28-21 overall, 10-11 Big West) have all but lost their hopes for playoff contention. The team has one more chance to build a case for the selection committee this coming weekend at home against Big West foe UC Irvine – the top-ranked team in the nation.
“[Sunday’s win] keeps whatever hopes we may have alive,” Gaucho Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “It would have been nice to take two out of three, but our depth on the mound didn’t come out as strong as we would have hoped.”
Brontsema reckons the team would have to sweep Irvine to make the playoffs, a task that becomes even more challenging without their ace right-hander Joe Gardner, whose strained oblique forced him to leave the mound after the second inning of Friday’s 9-4 loss. Gardner allowed three unearned runs and three hits in the outing, after pitching a two-hit complete game shutout against Long Beach State on May 8.
“It was a bit of a letdown,” senior centerfielder Brian Gump said. “We knew going into the game that he was a bit banged up, but I don’t think [his injury] killed us. We just didn’t do what we needed to.”
In Sunday’s game, the Gauchos scored two runs in the first inning after junior Matt Valaika and Gump each brought in a runner. They scored two more in the third and their last two in the sixth after designated hitter Robby Cummings hit his team-leading seventh home run of the season to cap off a three hit day at the plate. Senior right-hander Zach Samuels pitched six innings, allowing four runs on six hits and striking out three. He improves to 3-2 on the season.
“[Samuels] was great,” Gump said. “He went out and pitched strikes and got a lot of outs. He allowed isolated big hits, but he didn’t let them string together any runs.”
On Saturday, sophomore left-hander Mario Hollands had a tough day, allowing eight runs on 10 hits in 6.2 innings on the way to a 9-7 defeat. The Gauchos almost pulled yet another late-game rally, scoring two runs from a sacrifice fly and a Cummings double in the top of the ninth, but the margin was too big for the Gauchos to close. Senior first basemen Eric Oliver went three for four with two RBI in the game. He leads the team with 46 RBI on the season.
“Eric’s been outstanding in league play,” Brontsema said. “He’s hitting well over .400 in league, he’s found the stroke that we knew he had. We wanted him to be at his best in league play, and he has been.”
After Gardner left in Friday’s game, junior right-hander Clayton Edwards and sophomore right-hander Greg Davis allowed a total of six runs and 10 hits in the remaining six innings. Reigning Big West Player of the Week and junior second baseman Matt Valaika went two for four. Both Oliver and third basemen Ryan Cavan drew in runs, along with senior shortstop Shane Carlson and sophomore right fielder Mark Haddow.
The series against Irvine will commence at 2 p.m. on Friday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Both Saturday’s and Sunday’s game will begin at 1 p.m.
“I think we’ve got to sweep them,” Gump said. “But two out of three wouldn’t be bad, either.”