UCSB opened Big West Conference play with a win Friday, beating Cal State Northridge, 9-5, at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The Gauchos got off to a hot start, collecting 14 hits, six for extra bases, while receiving a strong effort from sophomore ace Mike Ford.

The Gauchos (16-7 overall, 1-0 Big West) scored early, with a five-run first inning that gave them a combined 28 runs in the first inning of their 23 games so far.

Junior Brian Gump got things started with a leadoff double down the left field line. UCSB then played small ball, as Chris Fox sacrificed Gump over to third with a well-executed bunt to the right side of the infield. First baseman Eric Oliver followed with an RBI single to shallow left to put the Gauchos ahead, 1-0. After robbing Matadors catcher John Parham with a perfectly timed jump catch over the left field wall in the top of the first, Mike Zuanich continued his heroics with a two-run blast that sailed high over the left field scoreboard. Zuanich’s second homer of the year gave the Gauchos an early 3-0 advantage. A John DeAlba double, followed by a Patrick Rose hit-by-pitch, put Gauchos on first and second with two down. Junior backstop Chris McMurray added to the barrage, lacing a two-run double into the left center field gap, scoring DeAlba and Rose to give UCSB a 5-0 lead after one inning of play.

Ford (3-2) was on cruise control early, as the Gauchos backed him with single runs in each of the next three frames to take an 8-0 lead.

Fox drove in Gump with an infield groundout in the second, increasing the Gauchos’ lead to 6-0.

In the bottom of the third, Steve Cook, a junior from SBCC, dumped an RBI single over the head of Matadors second baseman T.S. Reed, to score DeAlba from third, giving UCSB a 7-0 advantage.

After surrendering a sacrifice fly-RBI to Northridge first baseman Jowan-James Murray-Thornton for the first Matadors run of the game, Ford struck out Justin Demarco with a beautifully placed curveball on the inside half of the plate to escape a bases-loaded jam.

The Gauchos ran Matadors starter Jimmy Jolicoeur (1-3) from the game in the top of the fourth, scoring a run on a fielder’s choice to extend their lead to 8-1. Jolicoeur lasted only 3.1 innings, allowing eight runs on 10 hits, while walking two and striking out none.

The Matadors struck for two runs in the top of the fifth as a Rose throwing error prolonged the inning. Northridge left fielder Richard Cates delivered a two-run single to right field, to put the Matadors within reach, 8-3.

Ford would leave the game in the seventh after allowing an RBI single to Matadors right fielder Drew Mursen, which brought Northridge within four, 8-4. Ford gave way to UCSB’s most reliable reliever, Kyle Brown, who after loading the bases with a pair of walks, induced Murray-Thornton to fly out to left field to end the seventh-inning threat.

Ford scattered five hits over 6.1 innings of work en route to his third win of the year, allowing four runs (two earned), while striking out three and walking five.

The Gauchos scored again in the bottom of the seventh, as McMurray’s third hit of the day, an RBI single through the left side, gave UCSB a 9-4 advantage.

Senior right-hander Michael Martin pitched the final two frames of relief for the Gauchos, allowing a single run in the ninth.

Four Gauchos had three-hit performances including Gump, Oliver, DeAlba and McMurray. Gump went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base, his 13th of the year. Oliver added three hits in five at-bats, with two runs scored and one RBI. DeAlba, the former SBCC star, collected two doubles in a 3-for-4 effort, scoring three runs in the process. McMurray led the Gauchos offensively with a 3-for-4, three-RBI day.

The Gauchos have scored 57 percent of their runs (96 of 167) within the first four innings of games this year. UCSB is an impressive 15-2 when scoring six or more runs and is 16-0 when leading after six innings of play. The Gauchos have won four games in a row.

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

UCSB hosts Northridge again at 1 p.m. Saturday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.