Michael Martin wasn’t scheduled to start UCSB‘s most important game of the season, but he sure pitched like he was. Filling in for sophomore ace Mike Ford, who was down with the flu, the senior right-hander came within one out of a complete game Friday, propelling the Gauchos to a 6-2 victory over No. 9 UC Irvine at Anteater Ballpark.

UCSB scored six runs over the final three frames to improve to 35-19 overall, and 14-8 in Big West Conference play, while UCI dropped to 36-16, and 12-10 in the conference.

Martin (6-3) out-dueled Irvine ace and All-American Scott Gorgen (10-3), allowing only two runs, while scattering eight hits over 8.2 innings of work. Martin’s command was masterful throughout, as he struck out eight and walked only two. Martin ran into some ninth-inning trouble, leaving the game with the bases loaded, but it was nothing junior reliever Jason Roenicke couldn’t handle. Roenicke struck out Anteaters third baseman Tyler Hoechlin on three-straight pitches, sealing the Gauchos’ 14th Big West win.

Click here for Friday’s official box score and play-by-play.

The two teams play again at 5 p.m. Saturday in a game with possible postseason implications for the Gauchos. UCSB will be watching the scoreboard to see how the Cal State FullertonLong Beach State match-up plays out. A sweep of UCI would give UCSB 16 conference wins and a chance to be locked in a three-way tie for first place if Long Beach goes 2-1 against Fullerton. If a three-way tie occurs, Long Beach holds the upper hand in the head-to-head competition and would receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore southpaw Mario Hollands (7-2), coming off an impressive eight-inning start against UC Riverside, takes the mound for UCSB on Saturday with Irvine right-hander Bryce Stowell (6-2) pitching for the Anteaters.