LONG BEACH, Calif. – Austin Bush and Andrew Calica notched key home runs and sophomore lefty Kyle Nelson locked down the last four outs as No. 11 UC Santa Barbara narrowly defeated No. 16 Long Beach State by a score of 4-3 in Friday night's thrilling open to Big West Conference action at Blair Field.
Giving up a pair of runs in the bottom of the first, UCSB (19-5) battled back to tie the game at 2-2 before taking the lead in the fifth. LBSU (16-9) refused to quit however, tying the game once again in the seventh and loading the bases in the ninth before the final out could be recorded.
What was billed as a pitcher's duel between UCSB's Shane Bieber and LBSU's Chris Mathewson looked to be anything but early on, with both teams trading two-run punches early.
Both aces settled down after their initial blips however, and runs suddenly became a premium.
Junior center fielder Andrew Calica delivered UCSB its first lead of the game by turning on a 3-1 fastball from Mathewson and depositing over the right field fence for his second home run of the season.
The Dirtbags manufactured a run in the bottom of the seventh to knot the score once again, but that tie was short-lived, as wildness – both from Mathewson and reliever Lucas Jacobsen – led to their undoing.
Catcher Dempsey Grover kicked off the decisive rally by working a seven-pitch walk to lead off the eighth, Mathewson's third – and last – free pass of the day. Both players were lifted at that point, with Jacobsen coming in to pitch for the Dirtbags and Devon Gradford pinch-running for Grover.
With Bush – who opened UCSB's scoring ledger with a leadoff home run in the second – at the plate, Jacobsen paid the price for trying to avoid throwing a hittable pitch, as he uncorked three wild pitches allowing Gradford to score without Bush having to even lift the bat off his shoulder.
The drama was far from over however.
Still needing six outs to escape with the win, Bieber and Nelson teamed up to throw a 1-2-3 eighth inning. The Gauchos would not be so lucky in the ninth however, as Nelson walked a tightrope before recording the final out for his third save of the season.
An infield single led off the last of the ninth for LBSU, which put the tying run in scoring position one batter later on a sacrifice. After a groundout put the Dirtbags down to their last out, Nelson was uncharacteristically wild against the next two batters, walking No. 9 hitter Zack Rivera on five pitches before brushing shortstop Garrett Hampson with an 0-2 fastball to load the bases.
In a do-or-die situation, senior third baseman Ryan Clark came up big for the Gauchos, diving to his right on a one-hop grounder from Jarren Duran and touching the third base bag with his glove to end the contest.
The outcome made a winner out of Bieber, who improved to 5-1 on the year after allowing three runs while pitching into the eight. He has now recorded a quality start in six of his seven outings.
Mathewson ended up the loser for LBSU, falling to 3-3 on the year. He allowed four earned on five hits with three walks and nine strikeouts.
Daniel Jackson was the top offensive performer for LBSU, going 3-4 with a double. Hampson and Alex Muzzi both contributed a pair of base hits as well.
UCSB will go for the series win tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. behind the right arm of freshman right-hander Noah Davis (2-0, 2.78 ERA). He will be opposed by LBSU's own phenom youngster, sophomore RHP Darren McCaughan (4-0, 1.62 ERA). UCSBgauchos.com will carry a live audio broadcast of that game, which can be found on the baseball schedule page or by clicking here.
NOTES – Bush's home run was UCSB's first at Blair Field since 2008 ... Last Gaucho to hit a HR at Blair Field was Eric Oliver on May 10, 2008 ... UCSB's first two home-run game at Blair since since the turn of the millenium ... Calica has reached base in 23 of 24 games this season ... Bieber is 3-0 three career starts against the Dirtbags.