Gauchos Squeak Out First Conference Win Over Hawai'i

Tyler Kuresa (Photo by Vince Agapito)
Tyler Kuresa (Photo by Vince Agapito)

Manoa, Hawai'i – It took a clutch ninth inning rally and a timely game-ending double play ball, but the Gauchos ended up with a victory in a 7-6 nail-biter over Hawai'i on Friday night at Les Murakami Stadium in the Big West Conference opener for both teams.

Sophomore lefty Greg Mahle earned his team-leading fourth win of the season, giving up just one run over 2 1/3 innings of relief. Freshman Dylan Hecht survived an adventurous ninth inning to nail down his second save of the season.

The Gauchos (13-10, 1-0) led 3-0 after four innings and 5-2 after six, but  the Rainbows (5-17, 0-1) would fight back to tie the score. In the top of the ninth, the Gauchos broke through again for a pair of runs that appeared to seal the deal.

Sophomore Luke Swenson led off that inning with a single up the middle for his second hit of the day. After he was sacrificed over to second by Brandon Trinkwon, the Rainbows opted to intentionally walk designated hitter Robby Nesovic and take their chances with sophomore first baseman Tyler Kuresa. Kuresa immediately made Hawai'i regret that decision, smashing a double to center field, scoring both runners and giving UCSB a 7-5 lead.

Kuresa powered the offense all night after hitting in the fifth spot for the first time this season, collecting three RBIs and three hits, both team highs.

Closer Dylan Hecht came on in the ninth, but allowed the first three runners he faced to reach base, giving the Rainbows runners on first and second with no outs and bringing the score to 7-6. It was the first time this season that Hecht had allowed a leadoff runner to reach base. The freshman from Pleasanton, Calif. recovered however, getting Conner George to pop out and then inducing a game-ending 6-4-3 double play ball off the bat of Kalei Hanawahine.

Hecht's save rescued a victory for Mahle, who moves to 4-3 on the season. Mahle himself had to come to the aid of UCSB starter Austin Pettibone, halting a rally in the sixth inning that saw the Rainbows plate two and put another two runners on before the lefty came in and got a groundout from Austin Wobrock.

Pettibone remained at 3-2 after receiving his second no-decision of the season. The three-time Big West Pitcher of the Week nominee surrendered four runs and six hits over 5 2/3 innings pitched with a pair of strikeouts and a season-high three walks. The righty cruised through the first three innings, allowing just one hit, but ran into trouble in the fourth and sixth innings, giving up a pair of runs in each frame and being lifted with two outs in the latter.

Hawai'i starter Connor Little had a similar line, allowing four runs and six hits over five innings, picking up three strikeouts and three walks. Little was burned by freshman outfielder Dalton Kelly's fourth inning two-run triple, and also gave up runs on an RBI single from Swenson and an RBI groundout from Peter Maris. In a scary moment, Little was struck by a line drive off the bat of Trinkwon in the top of the fifth. He would finish out the inning after consulting with the trainer, but did not return to pitch the sixth inning.

Scott Squier threw a hitless eighth inning for Hawai'i, but got hung with the loss after giving up the pair of runs in the ninth, moving his record to 0-4.

The Gauchos and Rainbows continue their four-game series tomorrow night, with UCSB's Justin Jacome opposing Corey MacDonald at 9:35 p.m. Pacific time. Live stats and an audio feed of the game can be found here.