Riding the momentum of sweeping through the Nashville Regional, the UCSB baseball team defeated a heavily favored Louisville squad 4-2 at Jim Patterson Staduim in the opening match of the super regional’s best of three series.
The win gives the Gauchos an overall record of 41-18-1, and sets a new school record of most wins against Division 1 opponents (41). The Cardinals fall to 50-13 on the season and suffered their first loss of the postseason.
Calling UCSB’s win on Saturday an upset would be an understatement. Before the match, Louisville had posted a 36-1 home record while winning 50 overall games for the fourth time in school history and winning back-to-back ACC titles this season.
In addition, they were hosting their third consecutive super regional and came into the game ranked No. 2 in the country. Taking all that into consideration, it’s no wonder why the Cardinals were favored to take out a young Gaucho team. However, UCSB was not fazed by the team on the other side of the field, nor the crowd, which peaked at 4634, that cheered them on.
Thanks to notable performances from star junior pitcher Shane Bieber and big-time sophomore hitter Austin Bush, Santa Barbara was able to steal game one from Louisville and is now one win away from reaching its first-ever College World Series.
The home team got on the board first after sophomore third baseman Blake Tiberi hit a solo shot homer to right field to lead off the second inning to make the score 1-0.
The Gauchos were able to retaliate and tie the game up at one after sophomore Clay Fisher hit a RBI double to score senior third baseman Ryan Clark. The shortstop had another solid outing going 2-4 (.500) with one RBI to continue his postseason success.
Speaking of success, if there is one player who is truly enjoying major success this postseason at the plate, a strong argument could be made that the player is Austin Bush. The sophomore gave his team a 2-1 lead after hitting a home run for the fourth consecutive postseason game. It was Bush’s 11th homer of the season as he also went 2-4 (.500), with one RBI and one run scored on the day.
An RBI double from sophomore first baseman Kyle Plantier would extend the Gauchos lead to 3-1 after four innings of play. UCSB would add another run in the fifth inning to net a 4-1 lead after sophomore second baseman JJ Muno, who also went 2-4 (.500) with one RBI and one run scored, hit an RBI single right up the middle to score Bush.
After allowing the home run in the second inning, Bieber stepped up allowing only four hits while striking out two batters in the third, fourth and fifth inning. The Cardinals would finally strike in the sixth however, as Tiberi scored his second run off Bieber thanks to an RBI single to center field to make the score 4-2.
After closing out the seventh inning in one-two-three fashion, Bieber was relieved by sophomore Kyle Nelson. The junior had a great game allowing only eight hits and two runs while striking out seven batters to pick up his 12th win of the season.
Nelson picked up the save and secured victory for his team again in this postseason after pitching a perfect final two innings allowing no hits and no runs while striking out one batter.
One could easily make the case that this win over Louisville might be one of the biggest in program history. Not only did UCSB defeat a top-two team in the nation in a place that it had only lost once before, but it now moved within one win of reaching its first College World Series.
Louisville has only lost back-to-back games twice this season, and will be pitching the 2016 ACC Pitcher of the Year, junior Drew Harrington in order to win tomorrow’s match and force a game three that would be played on Monday.
UCSB now faces a similar situation it was in just one week prior: it is in control of its own destiny. The Gauchos have the upper-hand on the No. 2 team in the country, and while it wont be easy to put a team away on the road, they have proven themselves capable of doing so.
Santa Barbara has yet to lose a postseason game this year, and chances are the players, coaches and fans want it to stay that way at least until tomorrow’s match is over.
The Gauchos next game will be against Louisville in game two of a best of three series at Jim Patterson Stadium on Sunday, June 12 at 9 a.m. PDT. The game will be televised live on ESPN 2 while also being streamed on the WatchESPN app.