No. 9 UCSB Comes From Behind to Claim Cal Poly Opener 8-7

Luke Swenson (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Luke Swenson (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Ninth-ranked UC Santa Barbara put together a five run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning to nullify a three-run Cal Poly lead on Friday afternoon, storming back to top the Mustangs 8-7 at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

Senior right fielder Luke Swenson went 4-4 and scored three runs for the Gauchos, who improved to 27-8 with a 5-2 mark in conference play. Junior first baseman Robby Nesovic and senior left fielder Cameron Newell both added three hits, with the former chipping in a team-high three RBIs.

Cal Poly (15-19, 4-3) led 6-2 early thanks to a six-run outburst in the second inning, but couldn't protect the lead as UCSB continuously threatened before finally breaking through in the eighth.

Eighth consecutive batters reached base as part of that rally, with Luke Swenson starting the party on an RBI double into the right field corner. A Nesovic run-scoring base knock up the middle was sandwiched by a pair of walks, loading the bases for sophomore DH Billy Frederick with the go-ahead run on second base.

As he has consistently done in his time as a Gaucho, Frederick then delivered a clutch hit for UCSB, fisting a blooper down the left field line for a two-run single, putting the Gauchos up 7-6. Senior infielder Peter Maris followed up with what turned out to be an important insurance run, pulling a base hit through the right side to score Newell and put UCSB up by a pair.

The Gauchos had also put at least two runners on in four of the five innings preceding the eighth inning, pushing one run across in the third on a Nesovic infield single to reduce the deficit to three runs.

Nesovic, also UCSB's closer, went out to finish the job in the ninth. Despite being unusally erratic, allowing a run after issuing two walks and uncorking a wild pitch, Nesovic buckled down to get the final two outs, striking out Jack Zehner on a sharp slider before getting a soft chopper from Brett Barbier to end the game and earn his sixth save of the season. 

With the win, the Gauchos have now won 14 of their last 15 games.

The comeback made a winner of Kyle Nelson, who improved to 2-1 on the year after tossing two-thirds of an inning in the eighth without allowing a hit.

It also saved UCSB starting pitcher Justin Jacome from a loss. The junior lefty was mostly solid on Friday, but had a nightmare inning in the second as he allowed a pair of home runs, including the first career roundtripper for Cal Poly senior shortstop Peter Van Gansen, as part of a six-run rally for the Mustangs.

He ended the day having allowed six earned runs on 10 hits with two walks and five strikeouts, but he bounced back strongly from that second inning, as he allowed no runs on just five hits in his other 6 1/3 innings of work.

Senior reliever Danny Zandona (1-3) suffered the loss for Cal Poly, as he was charged with all five of UCSB's runs in the eighth. Mustangs starter Casey Bloomquist received a no-decision but was solid, allowing three earned runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings.

The Gauchos and Mustangs will resume their series tomorrow afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Sophomore right-hander Shane Bieber (5-2, 2.05) is slated to do battle against Cal Poly lefty Kyle Smith (3-5, 3.51 ERA).