UCSB handed #1 UC Irvine only its second Big West loss of the season on Saturday after hitting a school-record six home runs in an 8-2 blowout victory, but lost 11-7 on Friday and 15-3 on Sunday in a series effort that Head Coach Bob Brontsema believes reflected the team’s inconsistency all season.
“[Saturday’s game] says that we were capable of playing with anybody, and we did,” he said. “We played with all the good teams across the country that were on our schedule, but we just weren’t consistent enough across the board. This weekend kind of shows how that went.”
UCSB ended its season at 29-22, and 11-13 in the Big West. While the Gauchos will most likely miss the playoffs, they have won 64 games in two years, just shy of Brontsema’s record of 68 wins in two seasons from 2000-01. The Anteaters finished their season 43-13 overall and first in the Big West with a 22-2 conference record. They will host a Regional in the first round of the playoffs next week. Cal State Fullerton, #4, finished second in the conference, followed by #26 Cal Poly.
“I think that [Irvine] and Fullerton are on that same elite level,” sophomore left-hander Mario Hollands said. “It’ll be good to see a Big West team go far in the playoffs. Hopefully those two make it to the [College] World Series.”
Junior right-hander Mike Ford (4-5) started for the Gauchos on Friday in lieu of junior right-hander Joe Gardner, who suffered a strained oblique the weekend before against UC Riverside. Ford only allowed one run and three hits before Irvine’s two-out rally in the top of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, Ford hit Irvine’s Eric Deragisch with a pitch, cutting the Gaucho’s lead to 3-2. Irvine’s Ronnie Shaeffer followed with a two-RBI single to give them the lead. The Anteaters hit a single, a three-run home run, and two doubles before scoring 10 runs to push the score to 11-3. The Gauchos answered with three runs in the sixth and a run in the ninth, but the deficit was too great.
“You would think that at one point [during the rally] they would have hit the ball at somebody [for an out],” Brontsema said. “But they didn’t and boom: You’re down by a lot.”
On Saturday, Hollands pitched seven innings, throwing three strikeouts and allowing two runs behind the Gauchos’ six-home-run surge, in which four players went yard. In the third inning, sophomore right fielder Mark Haddow homered down the right-field line, followed by shots by senior center fielder Brian Gump and junior third baseman Ryan Cavan. Senior shortstop Shane Carleson hit a solo shot to center field in the fourth inning, and Gump and Haddow each homered again in the sixth. So many home runs were hit that the broadcast booth ran out of the yellow Gaucho shirts they throw into the crowd after every long bomb.
“Saturday was probably one of the more fun games I’ve ever been a part of,” Carleson said. “It was pretty cool.”
“It was definitely one of the highlight games of my career so far,” Gump said. “I’ll remember it for a long time. I was seeing the ball really well.”
On Senior Day Sunday, the team honored its eight graduation seniors: shortstop Shane Carleson, second baseman Steve Cook, designated hitter Robby Cummings, left fielder John DeAlba, center fielder Brian Gump, right-handers Patrick McIntyre and Zach Samuels and first baseman Eric Oliver. Samuels struggled at the mound, throwing two wild pitches and hitting a batter before allowing three runs in the second inning. He would go on to hit three more batters and allow five more runs in four total innings. In the third, UCSB scored two runs after Cavan hit a two-out, two-run home run, and one more run in the sixth after senior Cummings singled Carleson. In the seventh, Gaucho junior right-hander David Meals allowed six runs and five hits, securing the blowout win for the Anteaters.
“Irvine’s just a really solid team top to bottom,” Gump said. “All their players are really high quality, even though they don’t have any superstars. They speak for what successful teams are, showing that you don’t have to be like the Yankees to win. They play the game right.”
This season, junior Matt Valaika led all starters with a .343 batting average, his 45 RBI second on the team behind Oliver’s 48. Cavan’s .341 batting average was the team’s second best. Gump finished his final season as a Gaucho batting .308 with a team-leading eight home runs.
“It kind of hit me when I was walking into the locker room after the game [that it’s over],” Gump said. “But the next step is pro baseball, which I’ve been dreaming about my whole life.”
The future of Gaucho baseball depends on the Major League Baseball draft, which could potentially take some of the graduating seniors as well as some of the other players in the lineup and on the pitching staff. Both Gardner and Hollands could get drafted high enough to justify leaving college baseball early.
“The big X-factor is the draft,” Brontsema said. “The draft is a crazy thing: You never know what’s going to happen. If we lose some of our [active] guys to the draft, somebody will have to step in and surprise us.”
The Gauchos spent three weeks of March ranked in the National top 25, peaking at #20 in the rankings released March 23. However, the team lost two of three to Cal State Northridge and split a two-game series with UC Irvine, dropping them out of the rankings released on March 30. In April, the team went 9-4 before dropping seven in a row to begin May.
“I think we rely on good pitching,” Brontsema said. “When we got the good pitching early in the season, we were ranked because we were pitching well. A couple of things kind of went against us. We fell into a bit of a hole and never got out of it on a consistent basis. But we also showed flashes where we were good, like [Saturday.] We just weren’t as consistent as we needed to be.”