UCSB‘s fantastic regular season came to a close Sunday at UC Irvine with a hard-fought 2-0 loss to the Anteaters. The Gauchos amassed nine hits but were unable to score. Senior southpaw Chuck Huggins outlasted Anteaters starter Daniel Bibona but Irvine did in the Gauchos with single runs in the third and eighth innings.

The Gauchos finished the 2008 regular season campaign with a 35-21 overall record, and a 14-10 Big West Conference mark. UCI improved to 38-16 overall, with an identical 14-10 Big West record.

Both Huggins and Bibona got off to strong starts. In the bottom of the third, Anteaters second baseman Josh Tavelli led off with a double to left field. Eric Deragisch followed with a sacrifice bunt, allowing Tavelli to advance all the way to third base. In the ensuing at-bat, catcher Aaron Lowenstein laid down a sacrifice bunt to Gauchos first baseman Eric Oliver, which allowed Tavelli to score the first run of the game.

Huggins scattered four hits over the next four innings, before giving way to Mike Ford. The Gauchos’ usual Friday ace, Ford was unable to pitch the series opener because of the flu, but took the ball from Huggins in the eighth, hoping to preserve a 1-0 game.

Ben Orloff greeted Ford rudely, with a lead-off single up the middle. The Anteaters continued with the small-ball approach, as Jeff Cusick advanced Orloff to second with a sacrifice bunt. With Brock Bardeen pinch-hitting for Tony Asaro, Orloff was able to advance to third on a wild pitch from Ford. Again, it wasn’t a base hit that scored Orloff from third, but another sacrifice fly, this time by Bardeen. Jason Roenicke then came on in relief of Ford, striking out Dillon Bell to end the threat.

Irvine closer Eric Pettis retired the Gauchos in order in the top of the ninth, securing the 2-0 victory.

Mike Zuanich led the Gauchos offensively, supplying three hits in a 3-for-4 effort at the plate. The only other UCSB hitter to tally more than one hit was catcher Chris McMurray.

Ironically, in a season in which the Gauchos offense averages nearly 7.5 runs scored per game, UCSB couldn’t plate a run on the final day of the season. Sunday’s game was as close a contest as the Gauchos have played all year. Four Irvine pitchers combined to shut out the Gauchos, something UCSB had experienced only two twice before.

While UCSB outscored its opponents 413-290 on the year, the most telling stat of the day is that the Gauchos dropped to 0-8 when scoring two or fewer runs.

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

Even with the Gauchos losing two of three to Irvine this weekend, UCSB still has a shot at an at-large postseason bid. With UC Riverside losing to Cal Poly and UC Davis losing to Cal State Northridge, UCSB sits in a three-way tie for third place.

UCSB, Irvine and Riverside all have identical 14-10 conference records. UCI holds a tiebreaker over UCSB, while UCSB holds a tiebreaker over UCR. With both Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton already guaranteed postseason bids, it will be up the NCAA selection committee to choose another Big West team. UC Davis also may still be in the running with a 13-11 conference record.

The post-season selection show airs on ESPN at 9:30 a.m. Monday.