The old baseball saying, “If you’re going to win one game of a three-game series, make it the last one” rang true for UC Santa Barbara in Sunday’s series finale at Blair Field, as a gutsy effort from senior southpaw Chuck Huggins helped the Gauchos beat No. 26 Long Beach State, 5-3.
UCSB jumped out to an early lead, as Huggins (8-2) earned his eighth win of the year pitching 7.2 innings, while striking out four and walking only two. UCSB improved to 31-19 overall and 10-8 in Big West Conference play, while the Dirtbags fell to 30-18 and 11-7.
First baseman Eric Oliver helped the Gauchos jump out to an early lead in the bottom of the first inning, thumping a hanging, breaking ball high over the left-field wall. Oliver’s fifth home run of the year gave UCSB a 1-0 lead after one-half inning of play.
A lead-off base hit from shortstop Shane Carlson followed by a five-pitch walk to Patrick Rose put runners on first and second for the Gauchos to start the second inning. Designated hitter Gunnar Terhune was asked to sacrifice the runners over, and did so beautifully, placing a perfect bunt down the third-base line. With runners on second and third and one out, senior backstop Matt McColgan delivered an RBI single into shallow right, allowing Carlson to score from third. The Gauchos would strand runners on the corners, taking a 2-0 lead into the bottom half of the second inning.
Dirtbag cleanup hitter Shane Peterson ripped a triple into the right center-field gap to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Shortstop Danny Espinosa followed by lacing the first pitch he saw up the middle, driving home Peterson for the first Long Beach run of the game. Huggins was able to get out of the inning with minimal damage, inducing Jason Tweedy to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 twin killing.
The Gauchos mounted an attack in the top of the fifth inning starting with Robby Cummings’ lead-off infield single. Brian Gump then laid a sacrifice bunt down the first-base line to advance Cummings into scoring position. Fox made pretty in the next at-bat, lining an RBI single through the left side. Oliver kept the hits coming in the ensuing plate appearance, dumping a single into shallow left.
The first baseman’s second hit of the day chased Dirtbag starter Jake Thompson. With runners on second and third, Mike Zuanich found a hole through the right side, allowing Fox to score from third, but that would be it, as Oliver was gunned down at the plate by Dirtbag right-fielder Jason Corder. At the end of five-and-a-half innings, UCSB held a 4-1 lead.
Terhune single-handedly reached third base to put the Gauchos in fabulous shape to begin the sixth inning. Terhune hit a ball into shallow right, then turned on the afterburners, sliding safely into second base. A wild pitch in the next at-bat advanced Terhune to third. With Terhune on third, Cummings hit a dribbler to the shortstop Espinosa. Terhune broke for the plate as Espinosa gunned down the sophomore by a good 4 feet. Terhune’s miscue marked the fourth time in the series the Gauchos made an out with less than two outs at home. Fortunately, Fox picked up his teammate two at-bats later with an RBI single to right field. Fox’s second hit and second RBI on the day scored Cummings to put UCSB in front 5-1.
Long Beach inched closer in the eighth inning with Peterson’s RBI double in right center field. With the bases loaded, Huggins gave up a one-out sacrifice fly to Godfrey to bring the Dirtbags within two, 5-3. After walking Taylor Krick to reload the bases, Huggins gave way to junior right-hander Jason Roenicke. Roenicke made quick work of Tweedy to get the Gauchos out of the eighth-inning jam.
Roenicke disposed of the Dirtbags in the bottom of the ninth inning, earning his second save of the year with a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
UCSB resumes play on Friday against UC Riverside. The three-game weekend set kicks off at 2 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.