A four-run sixth inning put the UCSB baseball team in a very comfortable position up 7-1 in game one of its conference opener against Cal State Fullerton.
As expected, however, the Titans rallied back to make a game of it come the ninth inning, but junior right-handed pitcher Chris Lincoln saved the day, racking up his sixth save of the year and delivering the Gauchos a 7-6 win.
“It is never easy to steal even one game [at Goodwin] but to steal one on a Friday night is massive,” Lincoln said. “We have been playing well and this win exemplifies that.”
With the win, UCSB keeps its place atop the Big West standings improving to 18-4 overall and 1-0 in league.
On the other side, Cal State Fullerton drops below .500 at 11-12 for the first time since being 5-6 back in early March. It is also 0-1 in conference play and continues its plagues at home oddly enough dropping to 3-7 at Goodwin Field.
UCSB was the first team on the scoreboard Friday night as two singles and a walk loaded the bases up with just one out in the top of the first. Junior outfielder Armani Smith brought in a run with a sac fly to left field.
Trouble was brewing for UCSB and junior pitcher Ben Brecht in the bottom of the second. The southpaw walked the first batter then gave up two singles loading up the bases with no outs.
Like a capable Friday starter, however, Brecht came alive striking out the next batter and forcing a couple of groundouts to keep the trouble to a minimum. Still, one run did get through for the Titans tying the game at 1-1.
In the fourth, Santa Barbara countered as after a Smith triple and a walk by Andrew Martinez, freshman Christian Kirtley came up big singling to right field. The Gauchos would add another run in the fifth courtesy of a Smith RBI groundout.
Smith had another nice game for UCSB finishing 1-4 with two RBI’s. The fourth-inning triple from the junior was his fourth of the year, a team-best mark, and his 21 RBI’s this season are tied for the most on the team.
The sixth inning is when the Gauchos really took control. With runners on second and third and one out, senior Tevin Mitchell brought in a run with sac fly. Then, junior catcher Eric Yang continued his tremendous season hitting a two-run home run to left field giving UCSB a 6-1 lead.
Yang finished the night 3-5 finishing a triple shy of the cycle. His 21 RBI’s are tied for a team-high and his great night at the plate resulting in his batting average being bumped to .420.
“He has been spectacular this year,” Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “He is hitting great, he is getting on base, he’s catching, blocking balls, stealing bases, he is fantastic right now.”
After Yang, junior Tommy Jew hit his seventh home run of the season to conclude a great inning for UCSB giving them a 7-1 lead.
Fullerton countered in the bottom half of the sixth, however, scoring four runs of its own. After an error by third baseman Jason Willow, CSUF worked three singles to score a run and load up the bases with no outs.
Next, Brecht walked Titans’ first baseman AJ Curtis resulting in a run for CSUF cutting the lead to 7-3. After giving up a sac fly, Brecht was retired and in came in freshman right-hander Michael McGreevy.
Brecht finished the night allowing five hits and four earned runs while striking out seven to have 57 K’s on the year, tied for the league best.
McGreevy would give up one more run, which was credited to Brecht, and UCSB got out of the inning up 7-5.
“These all start to feel the same, we get this big lead and then our defensive concentration lapses a little bit. There’s no clock, we have to get all those outs so we could do a better job of keeping defensive pressure when we get that lead,” Checketts said.
Both teams traded scoreless frames until the bottom of the ninth. CSUF began the inning with a single from catcher Kameron Guangorena. After advancing to second on a wild pitch, the freshman would come around to score thanks to an RBI single from senior outfielder Jarrius Richards bringing the Titans within one.
With the tying run on and no outs, UCSB turned to junior ace closer Lincoln to get the job done. After a sac bunt, Lincoln got the next batter to ground out. Just one out away from a win and the tying run on third, Lincoln accidentally hit Mitchell Berryhill despite being up 1-2 in the count.
After hitting Berryhill, Lincoln would face CSUF’s best hitter Isaiah Garcia. The junior remained calm and forced the Titans batter to ground out giving UCSB the 7-6 win.
“Personally, this feels amazing. Beating Fullerton, no matter their record is a big confidence boost. I have had a couple of up and down outings but I really feel like I am hitting my stride,” Lincoln said.
Friday’s win for UCSB was big for multiple reasons. For one, it was the Gauchos first series-opening win at Cal State Fullerton since 2001. This also marks the third consecutive win against the Titans dating back to last years’ series which saw the Gauchos take the final two.
UCSB is now 8-1 on the year when reaching double-digit hits finishing with 11 on the night.
Game two between UCSB & CSUF will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 30 at Goodwin Field.