UC Santa Barbara led 1-0 after four innings and looked to be in control of what looked to be another pitcher’s duel with Long Beach State, but the Dirtbags broke through for runs in each of their final five turns at bat to take a 9-3 win in game two on Saturday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
Tevin Mitchell blooped a single into shallow left-center in the second inning to put UCSB (11-13, 1-1 Big West) up by a run early, and starter Kyle Nelson looked sharp early, holding the Dirtbags (15-11, 1-1) to a pair of singles and no runs over the first four innings.
Things started going sideways for Nelson and the Gauchos in the fifth as the Dirtbags wresting momentum with a three-run inning.
With two on and one out, Brock Lundquist knotted the score at 1-1 after rolling a grounder through the right side just past a diving Colton Burns, plating David Banuelos. After a walk loaded the bases, LBSU went ahead for good when a hard-struck Lucas Tancas grounder went off the glove of Burns to bring in a pair of runs.
UCSB looked to be in business in the bottom half of the fifth as Billy Fredrick got on base with a solid opposite-field single before Armani Smith laced a low line drive to left. Tancas, the LBSU left fielder, laid out to make the grab on Smith’s liner.
The Dirtbags extended their lead to 5-1 after scoring single runs the next two innings. Banuelos, who was 4-5 on the day, struck the biggest blow in those innings with an RBI double into the fight field corner. LBSU put the game out of reach in the eighth when Lundquist ripped a line drive past Austin Bush at first base for a two-run triple.
The Gauchos meanwhile had little success sustaining offensive momentum against Dirtbags starter John Sheaks, who scattered six hits over six innings of one-run ball, and then Eli Villalobos who took over in the seventh and went 1-2-3 before rolling up a rally-killing double play in the eighth.
“I thought Nelson came out and threw the ball pretty well today, but we had some defensive miscues and couldn’t get their momentum stopped,” said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. “We struggled in all facets of the game today, but fortunately we have another one tomorrow and it’s an opportunity to respond.”
UCSB finally got to Villalobos in the ninth, as JJ Muno and Sam Cohen connected for back-to-back home runs over the right-center field fence, with both balls landing in nearly the same spot. It was the second time this season that Gaucho batters have hit back-to-back jacks (Cohen and Bush vs Tulane, Feb. 25) after a seven-year drought for the program.
Sheaks was rewarded with the win to improve to 3-1 while Villalobos recovered from the two bombs to pick up the three-inning save, his first of the year.
Kyle Nelson picked up the loss for UCSB, falling to 3-3 on the year. The bullpen combined to allow five earned over four innings, but Shea Barry impressed in the ninth, retiring all three batters he faced including a pair of swinging strikeouts.
The Gauchos and Dirtbags will play their rubber match tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m.