Ford (5-2) allowed four runs on seven hits, while striking out eight and walking only two en route to the first complete game of any Gauchos starter this year. Mike Zuanich’s RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh broke a 4-4 tie, and UCSB (25-11) would not look back from there.
Both starters were on early as the first hit of the ballgame came in the bottom of the third inning when second baseman Steve Cook led off the inning with a triple into the right center field gap. Right fielder Brian Gump followed by grounding a ball to Trojans first baseman Derek Perren. Although Perren fielded the ball a foot away from first base, he decided to try to make a play at the plate, as Cook broke from third on the grounder. Perren’s throw sailed over the head of Trojans catcher Robert Stock, as Cook, a junior transfer from SBCC, scored the game’s first run.
USC (19-17) countered in the top of the fourth, when shortstop Grant Green’s lead-off home run to right center tied the game, 1-1. After winning Pac-10 Player of the Week honors last week, Green continued his hot streak, blasting his second home run in the last three games, and fourth in the last five. Rabago followed with a two-run shot of his own, launching a home run over the left field wall to give the Trojans a 3-1 lead after three and a half innings.
UCSB scored a run in the bottom of the fourth, courtesy of Gunnar Terhune’s RBI double down the left field line. Terhune’s hit scored Shane Carlson from second to bring the Gauchos within one, 3-2. With runners on second and third and two down, Trojans starter Tommy Milone induced Cook to pop up to short to get of the jam.
Milone (5-2) went six innings, allowing four runs on six hits, while striking out six and walking four.
The Trojans refused to succumb to the Gauchos’ push, scoring another run in the top half of the sixth inning. After singling up the middle to lead off the inning, Green advanced to second on Perren’s infield groundout. With one out, Green stole third base and scored on an overthrow from UCSB catcher Chris McMurray to put the Trojans ahead, 4-2.
Ford would not allow another run the rest of the way, facing only one batter of the minimum over the final three frames.
The Gauchos scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to knot things up. With the bases loaded and one out, Cook grounded a ball to Trojans third baseman Billy Pinkerton. Pinkerton threw to second for the force out, but the turn to first was late, as Carlson scored on the play. The Gauchos tied the game in the following at-bat, however, when Gump singled to right field, scoring McMurray from third. It would be all the Gauchos could muster, as Milone stranded the go-ahead run on third, inducing Fox to fly out to right to end the threat. After six innings of play, the Gauchos and Trojans were tied, 4-4.
The tie wouldn’t last long as the Gauchos scored twice in the bottom of the seventh off Trojans reliever Daniel Cooper. Zuanich continued his torrid hitting streak, pounding an RBI tie-breaking triple to deep center field, scoring Eric Oliver all the way from first. Carlson’s sacrifice fly to center in the ensuing at-bat scored Zuanich from third to put the Gauchos ahead, 6-4.
UCSB would not relinquish the lead as Ford willed his way to the win. After walking the first batter he faced in the top of the ninth, the Gauchos coaching staff showed their faith in Ford, allowing the sophomore to finish what he started. Ford induced Roskopf to ground into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning. With a runner on first and one down, he struck out Rabago for the second out of the inning. He then got Stock to fly out to center to end the game. With the ball tightly secured in Oliver’s glove, Ford pumped his fist in elation, having successfully pitched his first complete game.
Ford lowered his ERA to 2.79 while improving his impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio to a perfect two-to-one, 54-27. Ford has now pitched at least six innings in eight of his nine starts, and eight or more innings in three of his starts.
Gump led the Gauchos with a 2-for-5, two RBI effort. A game after hitting three home runs, Zuanich went 1-for-4 with one run scored and a crucial tie-breaking RBI. Carlson went 1-for-2 with two runs scored and one RBI.
Click here for Friday’s official box score and play-by-play.
USC hosts the second game of the three-game series at 2 p.m. Saturday.