UCSB second baseman Nick Oakley, a junior from Santa Barbara HIgh School, drove in the Gauchos' first runs of the season with a three-run triple in the fourth inning. He added the go-ahead, RBI double in the seventh inning of UCSB's 9-7 victory over Minnesota at the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Ariz.
Nick Oakley, shown in an earlier game, hit two home runs and had 5 RBIs in UCSB's win at Cal State Fullerton. Credit: Jeff Liang / Noozhawk File Photo


Gauchos rally on Brethowr's homer and Oakley's double after surrendering 6-1 lead

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Ivan Brethowr, UC Santa Barbara’s 6-foot-6 mountain in right field, made a triumphant return to the Grand Canyon State on Friday.

The sophomore transfer from Arizona State went 3-for-4 with a solo home run and an RBI double to lead the Gauchos to a 9-7 victory over Minnesota in its season opener at the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic.

“He’s scary in the box,” Gaucho coach Andrew Checketts said. “When he swings, it’s scary.”

Santa Barbara High graduate Nick Oakley contributed a three-run triple and an RBI double to UCSB’s 12-hit attack.

The 14th-ranked Gauchos led 6-1 after five innings. They fell behind, 7-6, however, when the Golden Gophers erupted for five runs in the top of the seventh. UCSB took the lead back in the bottom of the inning on Brethowr’s homer and Oakley’s double.

“It was a good baseball game,” Checketts said. “I don’t particularly enjoy those ones myself, but we played pretty clean defense.

“We had some new guys in the lineup who we’re excited about and who we thought looked in character. Brethowr was really good in the box today and Corey Nunez started at short and really played well defensively.

“We thought Jonah Sebring had some good at-bats and Nick Oakley clutched up for us there and really had a great day at the plate.”

Junior lefthander Mike Gutierrez gave UCSB a quality start, pitching a five-hitter over five-plus innings while allowing two earned runs. He retired 11 batters in a row after Minnesota scored in the first on back-to-back bloop hits.

“There was a lot of blood on those baseballs, and he settled in after that,” Checketts said. “We tried to stretch it a little bit more and probably shouldn’t have sent him out in the sixth.”

Gutierrez struck out eight and walked none but got a no-decision after the Gauchos’ bullpen surrendered the lead.

Hudson Barrett earned a four-out save, however. The freshman lefthander kept UCSB ahead 8-7 after striking out Chris Hokenson with a runner at second base with two outs in the eighth. Brady Huddlestun, who got the first two outs of the inning, was credited with the win.

The Gauchos got an insurance run in the eighth when Zander Darby rapped a two-out single off the second baseman’s glove, stole second base, and scored on Broc Mortensen’s line drive into left-centerfield. Boston Merlia had the ball glance off his glove as he attempted a sliding catch and was called for a two-base error.

Zander Darby scored twice while going 2-for-5 for UCSB in its season-opening, 9-7 victory over Minnesota at the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Ariz. (Jeff Liang / Noozhawk File Photo) Credit: Noozhawk file photo

UCSB was held scoreless on two hits through the first three innings. Brethowr, however, triggered a four-run fourth with a single to center. A walk to LeTrey McCollum and a bunt single by Sebring loaded the bases for Oakley.

“Jonah can run,” Checketts said. “He’s a utility player who played all over the place for us during the fall and early January.

“We were debating about playing him at second even just today, before the game … But he seems to be capable in centerfield.”

Oakley followed Sebring’s bunt by pulling his three-run triple into the right-field corner. He scored moments later on Nunez’s ground out to shortstop.

“He played fantastic in those big moments,” Checketts said of his junior second baseman. “It’s fun to see him do that, grow into that leader … Somebody who shines in those moments.”

Brethowr keyed a two-run fifth when his double through the gap in left-center scored Darby. He followed him home on Sebring’s single to center.

Minnesota rallied with a run in the sixth and five more in the seventh off UCSB relievers Carter Benbrook and Sam Whiting. Whiting, who allowed three runs on three hits in the inning, settled down to strike out the last two batters with two runners aboard to keep Minnesota’s lead at 7-6.

“Those strikeouts were big,” Checketts said.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked at how his outing went, based on how well he’s pitched late in the fall and in early January,” he added. “He dominated our hitters for four months and he didn’t have an outing where he gave up more than a run, so I was pretty surprised at the way that went.

“But he did settle in and was able to stop the bleeding, and that gave us a chance. If that turns out with us down by three, that really takes the wind out of your sails.”

Brethowr got the Gauchos even in the bottom of the seventh by launching his home run over the left-field fence with one out.

McCollum kept the rally going by laying down a bunt single and continuing to second base on a throwing error by the Golden Gopher’s pitcher. He scored the go-ahead run on Oakley’s two-out, opposite-field double over the left fielder’s head.

“It would’ve been easy for everybody to put their tail between their legs after we gave the lead up, but the guys did a really nice job of chipping away and figuring out a way to take the lead,” Checketts said. “And Barrett did enough to close it out.”

Brethowr went 3-for-4 with an intentional walk and scored three runs. Oakley and McCollum both went 2-for-3 while Darby and Sebring were 2-for-5.

Minnesota threatened in the top of the ninth when Brett Bateman was hit in the helmet by a no-ball, two-strike fastball. He took second on a ground out and went to third on a wild-pitch, ball four to Brady Counsell.

But Barrett induced a game-ending double play when Counsell was called for interference on his slide into second base.

Minnesota touched up Gaucho pitching for 10 hits. Bateman and Hokenson both went 2-for-4 while Merila drove in three runs with a double and a single in five at-bats.

But UCSB minimized the damage by playing errorless defense. It got several dazzling plays from Nunez at short, Darby at third and McCollum at first.

“The infield defense today was spectacular,” Checketts said. “I know I’ve been making the comparisons, but the play Nunez made (backhanding a slow ground ball to his right) brings back Clay Fisher memories. He’s a similar-style infielder — and he’s starting at shortstop as a true freshman, which is hard to do.

“McCollum had some really nice at-bats and played a solid first base. He’s really athletic and impressive. You wouldn’t know that he’s been over there playing first base for only five months.”

Matt Ager will take the mound for UCSB when it continues tournament play against New Mexico today at 4 p.m.

Freshman Reed Moring will get the start when the Gauchos play Minnesota again on Sunday at 4 p.m. They will conclude the event when another freshman, Tyler Bremner, takes the mound on Monday at noon against Oregon State.