FRESNO, Calif. – Junior outfielder Cameron Newell stroked a go-ahead RBI single to score Joey Epperson in the tenth and sophomore closer Dillon Tate provided three innings of shutdown relief to steer No. 10 UC Santa Barbara to a 5-4 win at Fresno State's Beiden Field on Tuesday night.
The win, UCSB's sixth straight, improved the team's record to 18-3, extending the team's second-best start in program history (only 1984's 19-2 team was better through 21 games). The Gauchos are now a perfect 4-0 in midweek games this season.
Fresno State, the 2008 College World Series champion, dropped to 15-10.
Newell's game-winning hit, part of a 3-5 day, completed the comeback for the Gauchos after they had fallen behind 4-3 on an eighth inning home run from Chris Mariscal that gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the day.
Right after falling behind, UCSB answered back with a run in the top of the ninth to move the game to extra innings. Sophomore Robby Nesovic led off the ninth with a pinch-hit double down the left field line before making way for pinch-runner Scott Quinlan.
Senior catcher Jackson Morrow then strode to the plate attempting to sacrifice Quinlan over to third. After taking a pair of borderline strikes, Morrow was able to bunt the 0-2 pitch down the third base line, perfectly hugging the chalk and coming to rest in fair territory for an infield single to give UCSB runners on the corners with no outs.
Quinlan would score later in the inning when Bulldogs reliever Derick Velazquez uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop. UCSB was prevented from scoring any further runs when Morrow was doubled off on a botched squeeze attempt that also claimed shortstop Peter Maris on the strikeout.
UCSB's offense didn't wait long to make up for that lost opportunity however, as Epperson started off the tenth with a base hit into center field, giving him hits in 26 of his last 27 games. Epperson, who entered the game with the second-highest batting average in the country, moved to second on a Tyler Kuresa sac bunt before being plated by Newell's single.
In by far his longest outing as a Gaucho, Tate was outright dominant en route to his first career win, striking out five and allowing just two hits in three innings. After allowing a single to the first batter he faced, the fireballer retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced, with only a Jordan Luplow one-out infield single in the ninth marring his line. Tate recovered and closed out the game by inducing back-to-back popouts from Taylor Ward and Jordan Luplow.
UCSB starting pitcher Shane Bieber was solid if not spectacular in his return to the mound following a Mar. 8 injury, allowing two earned runs in five innings to go along with a pair of strikeouts and three walks. He left the game in line to win after the offense had staked him to a 3-2 lead.
The Gauchos opened the day's scoring with a two-run second. A leadoff Billy Fredrick hit by pitch was followed by singles from Newell and Morrow to load the bases, then reigning Big West Field Player of the Week Andrew Calica knocked in a run with a base hit through the left side before Maris plated another with a sac fly to left.
Fresno State answered right back with a two-run single from Manny Argomaniz in the bottom half, but UCSB took its second lead of the day with a Morrow squeeze bunt to score Newell in the fourth inning and make the score 3-2.
In a predetermined staff day, the Bulldogs employed eight different pitchers in the loss. The Gauchos spread out the damage among the relief corps, as four Bulldog hurlers surrendered at least one run. Starter Will Munro went two innings, allowing two runs on four hits. Connor Chase (2-1) received the loss after Epperson, who reached against him, came around to score.
For Fresno State, Luplow (3-5) and shortstop Ryan Dobson (2-4) had strong days with the bat, but Mariscal's big fly was one of just two extra-base hits for the Bulldogs.
This weekend, UCSB will welcome the start of Big West Conference play by hosting Hawai'i for a three-game series at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium starting on Friday at 3:00 p.m. All three contests will be broadcasted over the air on AM 1290 and online through UCSBgauchos.com.