The game between UCSB’s baseball team and Washington kicked off the Nashville Regionals on Friday with a bang as it featured a match that had two teams battling for 14 innings in order to decide who would move on to the winners match tomorrow.
No matter what side fans were rooting for, they had to appreciate the efforts of the athletes of both sides and the heart displayed by both teams for 14 full innings.
Although it was one of those games where both teams deserved to win, only one could, and with a comeback effort in the works and a walk-off home run, the Gauchos won 3-2.
The win sends Santa Barbara to the winners match tomorrow against the winner of Vanderbilt/Xavier game later tonight. Washington will play the loser match tomorrow, and if it loses that game then it will be eliminated from the tournament. If it wins, it will continue on in the Regionals.
The game itself was a testament to how truly great sports are — college sports in particular — when you see these young athletes fight for their playoff lives with all their might.
More specifically, it was impressive to see the young Gaucho team continue to battle back.
The scoring began in the bottom of the third inning when redshirt junior Devon Gradford hit an RBI single to center field to make the score 1-0. The play was controversial as the Huskies center fielder, junior Jack Meggs, ran up and made what he deemed to be a diving catch for an out. The umpire ruled that the defender did not catch it; therefore, the hit counted as well as the run.
Washington retaliated in the top of the fourth as sophomore catcher Joey Morgan flied flew out to right field where Gradford made the catch and tried to throw out junior infielder Chris Baker, who was a bit too quick, and was able to tie the game at one.
For the next seven innings, both teams went scoreless thanks to tremendous pitching on both sides, especially by Husky starting pitcher sophomore Noah Bremerok who after allowing one run, retired the last 19 batters he faced.
Junior Shane Bieber went 7.1 innings for Santa Barbara, allowing only eight hits and one earned run. Star reliever and redshirt sophomore Kyle Nelson came in afterward and did solid pitching for four innings and allowed no hits, one run and struck out a career-high seven batters.
Hope seemed lost for the Gauchos in the 12th as an error put runners on first and third for the Huskies with no outs. Eventually, Washington loaded the bases with two outs and scored on a walk to take a 2-1 lead before redshirt junior Trevor Bettencourt retired the side.
The Gauchos responded in the bottom half of the inning courtesy of Gradford who hit a leadoff home run to begin the inning. It was the first of the season, and it was a special moment for a player who was not even sure he going to make the roster in the fall, but is possibly his team’s current savior.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 3, 2016
After that, the teams again traded scoreless innings until the defining moment. Sophomore designated hitter Austin Bush hit another leadoff home run — this time in the walk-off variety — blasting his team to the winners match with a 3-2 victory.
It was a game that truly encompassed the beauty of baseball and college sports as a whole. It was great to see both teams fight the way they did. For the Gauchos, it was amazing seeing the resilience of the team yet again shine through in possibly the most important game of their season so far.
Either way, after such an emotional win, it will be important for Santa Barbara to recover fast for tomorrow’s match, which is slated to begin at 6 p.m. PDT. Whether it faces the defending NCAA runners-up in Vanderbilt, the hosts of the tournament, or Xavier, who has won 16 of its last 18, UCSB will need to be ready after having to use three arms from the bullpen and the other players playing fourteen grueling innings.
The Gauchos face off against either Xavier or Vanderbilt in the second round of the Nashville Regional Double Elimination Tournament at Hawkins Field on Saturday, June 4 at 6 p.m. PDT. The game will also be streamed on ESPN3.com.
Note: Our hearts and condolences are with Vanderbilt and their baseball team as well as the family of Commodores pitcher Donny Everett who lost his life at age 19 after a tragic drowning accident. Vanderbilt could have pushed the tournament back, but instead decided to play in his honor, and for that we are thankful and hope the best for everyone who was blessed to know Everett. May he rest in peace, and good luck to Vanderbilt in the tourney.
Update: The Vanderbilt-Xavier match-up has been pushed to tomorrow at 11 a.m. PDT due to raining conditions. The winners match is expected to still begin at the same time.
Update: Xavier defeated Vanderbilt on Saturday and in the losers’ match between Vandy-Washington, Vanderbilt lost again eliminating them from the tournament. UCSB-Xavier will play on Sunday at 12 p.m. PST after another rain delay pushed the game back from its original time. The loser of that match will play Washington at 6 p.m. PST.