Mike Gutierrez, shown in an earlier game, pitched seven shutout innings to earn his forth win. Credit: Noozhawk file photo

The UCSB men’s baseball team won its Big West opener in style, shutting out Cal State Bakersfield, 5-0, in the first game of a three-game set Friday night at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

Santa Barbara has now won eight in a row and improved to 13-3 overall on the season. Cal State Bakersfield lost its seventh straight and fell to 7-9 overall.

Over the last four games, the Gauchos have found a bit more offense, averaging 9.5 runs per contest.

“We’re capable. You can see that we have the tools and the skills to be able to be good offensively and dynamic,” said UCSB coach Andrew Checketts. “We can hit it over the fence, we can steal bases, we can play a short game and now it’s just about the consistency of putting it together every day.”

“You’re gonna see good pitchers on Friday. There are not very many sloppy Friday pitchers and we want to be better against good pitchers.”

Still, that capable hitting wasn’t showing up early.

Through five innings, the Gauchos had not registered a hit, while striking out six times, half of those coming in the fifth frame when the team was struck out in order.

In the sixth, the team finally got a hit as LeTrey McCollum singled with two outs.

While the offense was trying to find its groove, the pitching provided exceptional support, thanks to the arm of southpaw starter Mike Gutierrez. 

The junior improved to 4-2 on the season after pitching his longest outing of the season Friday night. He went seven innings and surrendered just three hits while striking out six.

So far this season, Gutierrez is sporting a 1.53 ERA, having allowed just 22 hits and five earned runs in 29.1 innings of work. He has also struck out 36 batters.

“Having this pitching staff, it is amazing,” sophomore third baseman Zander Darby said after the game.

“We know we don’t have to worry, we know that they’re going to do their job, so that’s just the safety net for us. It just allows us to relax and have fun and be able to do our thing and let loose.”

That great pitching paid off in the bottom of the seventh, as the Gauchos offense found its rhythm. The frame started with an Ivan Brethowr single to left field, followed by an Aaron Parker walk with no outs.

Then, Darby stole the show, hitting a no-doubter to right field, putting UCSB up 3-0. It was Darby’s second home run of the season. 

The sophomore currently bats .302 on the season with an on-base percentage of .378.

Zander Darby hit a three-run homer to break a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. Credit: Noozhawk file photo

“That moment felt great,” said Darby. “The team was struggling a lot, but we knew that we were eventually going to get there and get our swings off. Finally, when I got that home run, it was kind of that clicking play.

“It just felt like a complete confidence and momentum shifter.”

That three runs put Gutierrez in line for the win. Hudson Barrett did his job to make sure his teammate got the win.

The freshman southpaw sat down the next six batters in order, striking out two.

“Our pitching has been fairly consistent besides a stinker against Oregon State and maybe one game against Minnesota, where I think we gave it up a little. But it’s been pretty consistent. It gives you a shot and it gives us a chance to figure out the offense,” Checketts said.

In between Hudson’s six-out save, his third of the season, the Gauchos added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth.

First, Brethowr hit his team-best sixth home run of the season, a moon shot over the scoreboard in left field to put his team up 4-0.

Later, the Gauchos would put together three straight singles to bring in the fifth and final run of the afternoon. 

But the Gauchos showed its streaky hitting ability Friday, registering nine hits and all five runs in essentially just three innings of work.

“We’re capable of doing great things. And when we put up a three-run spot and then you have guys just punching out on the other end, 1-2-3, it’s really amazing. We’re really talented team,” Darby said.

UCSB will host Cal State Bakersfield for game two of the set at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium on Saturday at 4:05 p.m.