No. 20 Gauchos Swing Past UC Irvine in Series Opener

Devon Gradford (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Devon Gradford (Photo by Tony Mastres)

IRVINE, Calif. – Behind two doubles from junior right fielder Devon Gradford, three hits from sophomore catcher Dempsey Grover, and a complete game effort from Shane Bieber, No. 20 UC Santa Barbara earned a 10-3 win in Friday's series opener against UC Irvine on Friday night at Anteater Ballpark.

After two scoreless innings to open the game, UCSB (34-15-1, 11-8 Big West) went on the offensive with a three-run third then stretched their lead with two more runs in the fourth. The Gauchos later delivered a knockout punch with a four-run seventh against a trio of UCI (28-23, 8-11) pitchers.

Helping to limit the damage done by a potent Anteaters lineup, Bieber tossed his fourth complete game while becoming the 12th Gaucho ever to reach the 10-win plateau in a single season after earning the victory on Friday.

According to Boyd's World, UCSB is ensured a top-45 RPI finish after tonight's victory. 

"That was the best offensive outing we've had against a left-hander all year," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "And the fact that our bullpen is fresh and we didn't have to use anybody is a big deal."

Allowing three earned over the full nine innings, the Gaucho ace used his slider often to keep UCI off-balance all night, racking up 10 strikeouts which matched a career-high. 

He seemed to be at his best in pressure situations, holding the Anteaters to a 2-13 line with runners in scoring position in the contest. After giving up three runs over the first four frames, he kicked it up a gear and surrendered just three hits over five shutout innings to close out the contest.

The Laguna Hills, Calif. native also eclipsed the 100-inning mark for the second straight season, and with his deep start allowed the UCSB bullpen to rest on the first of a four-games-in-four-days-stretch. 

"He stops momentum, he doesn't beat himself, he's special," said Checketts. "Nights like tonight are why he's the best in the Big West in my opinion. We wanted him to throw a CG based on where our staff is health-wise, so for him to do so was huge for us."

UCSB's first rally of the game was aided by some good fortune. After JJ Muno opened the scoring with an RBI single into center, the Gauchos were able to load the bases with two outs. Facing UCI starter Elliot Surrey, Grover hit a hard grounder right at shortstop John Brontsema, but the ball bounced off the foot of third base umpire Will Thornewell and caromed into left field for a two-run single.

The Gauchos would need no such luck the rest of the game, consistenly getting good swings against UCI's staff. 

Gradford hit the first of his two three-baggers in the fourth, later scoring on a sac fly from second baseman Tevin Mitchell, who had two RBIs in the contest. 

That duo teamed up for another run in the sixth, as Gradford pulled his second triple of the day into the left-center gap before scoring on a single from Mitchell past a drawn-in infield. 

UCSB sent nine batters to the plate in their big seventh inning, opening the rally when first baseman Austin Bush wore a 1-2 curveball with one out. The Gauchos then sequenced four singles around a walk and a balk to bring in four runs, with the most damage coming on a two-out base hit through the right side from Andrew Calica that plated Billy Fredrick and Josh Adams

Surrey was charged with the loss for UCI after allowing eight earned in 6 1/3 innings, falling to 3-6 on the year. The soft-throwing southpaw walked two,  hit four batters, and struck out three. 

Center fielder Evan Cassaloto had four singles to lead the Anteaters offense, while Heston Kiura went 2-4 with a double and two RBIs. UCI stranded 11 runners as a team. 

Coupled with Cal State Fullerton's loss to Hawaii, UCSB stayed alive in the race for the Big West regular season title. The Gauchos are now three games behind the Titans with five league contests remaining. 

UCSB will go for the series win tomorrow night in a game televised live on FOX Sports Prime Ticket. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

NOTES: Gradford became just the ninth Gaucho ever to hit two triples in one game ... Last one to do so was Gunnar Terhune on Mar. 28, 2010 ... Calica was hit by a pitch twice on Friday, stretching his school record to 51 career HBPs ... He also broke a tie for the UCSB single season record for hits by pitch, he now has 23 on the season which is second most in the entire NCAA ... Both records were previously held by Woody Woodward (2012-15), who had 21 HBPs in 2015 and 48 for his career.