CORVALLIS, Ore. – UC Santa Barbara's baseball season came to an end on Sunday at the NCAA's Corvallis Regional, but as was the case over the entire season, the Gauchos didn't go quietly in a 5-4 loss to Texas A&M.
Trailing all day, UCSB rallied for three runs and three hits in the seventh inning, cutting a 5-1 deficit to 5-4, but Aggie closer Jason Jester entered the game and got the final seven outs to send his team into a game against unbeaten Oregon State, the host of the Regional.
"This is tough," said Gaucho head coach Andrew Checketts. "This team is very close and has worked very hard this year. I'm proud of them and I think there is a bright future, but right now, it's tough."
UCSB finishes its season with a 35-25 record, making its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2001 and winning its first Regional opener – 6-4 over Texas A&M on Friday – since1986.
On Sunday, the Aggies wasted little time getting to freshman Robby Nesovic as Mikey Reynolds led off the first inning with a double down the in right. Blake Allemand then grounded a ball into the hole at shortstop. Brandon Trinkwon made a nice back-handed play, but knowing he had no chance to get Allemand, he tried to catch Reynolds rounding third. Trinkwon's throw to Marc Venning was wild and Allemand moved to second base to put runners on second and third.
The next Texas A&M batter, Cole Lankford, entered the game with seven straight hits and 8-of-9 overall in the Regional, but he hit a hard grounder to first baseman Tyler Kuresa who took the ball to bag for the first out and then caught Allemand napping too far off of second base, crossed the infield while holding Reynolds at third and tagged Allemand out between second and third for an odd unassisted double play.
But the zany double play was not enough to squelch the Aggies as Hunter Melton singled home Reynolds with the first run of the game.
Texas A&M added three in the top of the third. Jace Statum and Reynolds started the inning with back-to-back singles. Statum tagged and cruised into third when Allemand flied out to right and both scored on a double to right center field by Lankford, who scored one out later on a single by Troy Stein.
The Gauchos got one run back in the sixth. Venning led off with a double down the line in left. The next batter, Jackson Morrow, placed a sacrifice bunt to the left of the mound. Aggie starter Rafael Pineda came off the hill, fielded the ball and then threw wild to Lankford at first, scoring Venning and sending Morrow to second. But after Joey Epperson struck out, Morrow was caught stealing at third base, ending the threat.
Texas A&M got the run back in the top of the seventh when speedy Krey Bratsen doubled to lead things off quickly stole third behind Venning as the Gauchos' third baseman crept in towards the plate in anticipation of a sacrifice bunt. Bratsen scored when Statum lofted a fly to Luke Swenson in right field and the score was 5-1.
"I thought base running played a big part in the game today," Checketts said. "Jacks gets caught going to third to end an inning and then their guy (Bratsen) gets in behind us for a steal. Both those plays were key."
The stage was set for a wild and somewhat controversial bottom of the seventh.
Woody Woodward hit the first pitch from Pineda into left field for a double and Kuresa followed with a single to score him, cutting the gap to 5-2. The next batter, Cameron Newell, grounded a ball to Melton at third base. Melton threw to Allemand at second, forcing Kuresa, but he was unable to turn the double play as the Gauchos' first baseman slid hard to disrupt him and no throw was made.
However, the second base umpire ruled that Kuresa slid out of the baseline and called Newell out as well. The replay of the play showed that Kuresa's hard slide was right over the bag, but the call was made and Checketts' argument was rebuffed.
The Gauchos, however, weren't done in the inning. Nesovic, who started on the mound and pitched 6.1 innings allowing eight hits and five earned runs, was hit by a pitch. Swenson walked and Venning singled to load the bases. UCSB sent Joe Winterburn in to pinch hit for Morrow and Winterburn came through in the clutch, lining a two-run single to left to make the score 5-4.
But Santa Barbara would get no closer as Jester was summoned for the final seven outs for his 14th save.
Woodward and Venning each ended with a pair of hits for the Gauchos. As a team, they finished with 10.
UCSB, which has just two seniors, should return the majority of its roster in 2014, including its entire starting rotation which included two sophomores and two freshmen.