NORTHRIDGE, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara put together one of the best collective offensive performances in the Andrew Checketts era in Saturday's conference game at CSUN, using a nine-run seventh inning to pull out at 15-6 win in game two of the series at Matador Field.
Led by junior first baseman Austin Bush's first career two-homer day, the Gauchos (12-16, 2-3 Big West) hit four home runs in the win, the most single-game roundtrippers for UCSB under Checketts. But it wasn't just the big fly that produced runs for the Gauchos, who executed solid team baseball early on before breaking the game open in the seventh.
The Gauchos went up for good after manufacturing a run in the second despite not recording a hit, as junior third baesman Kenny Corey reached on a leadoff walk, stole second with JJ Muno at the plate, moved to third when Muno rolled out to first base, and came in to score when Armani Smith grounded out to second baseman Alvaro Rubalcaba, who was playing back.
UCSB extended its lead with more solid team offense in the fourth, parlaying a leadoff walk and Sam Cohen single into a pair of runs. Corey moved both those runners into scoring position with a perfect sac bunt down the third base line, then Muno brought in one run after pulling a grounder through the right side for an RBI single. Smith capped off the rally with a nicely-executed safety squeeze down on the first base side.
"It's easy to focus on the home runs today, but I thought the team offense was good," said Checketts. "Guys were taking walks, we executed that safety squeeze, JJ had a nice drag bunt, Corey laid down a huge sac bunt, Armani pulled off a key slash."
The Gauchos went on to cement the victory with a huge ninth inning. The frame started with back-to-back singles off CSUN (15-17, 2-3) starter Samuel Myers, who was lifted at that point for right-hander Joe Ryan.
Ryan started off well enough, getting Tommy Jew to bounce to third for one out, but things quickly went sideways for him after UCSB catcher Dempsey Grover connected for a three-run homer to left-center. Second baseman Colton Burns followed with a no-doubter to left, giving the Gauchos their third back-to-back home runs of the season after the program went six straight seasons without back-to-back jacks.
The inning was far from over however, with the Gauchos notching five more runs on five hits. Highlights included an RBI triple from Sam Cohen that was scorched past CSUN first baseman Jayson Newman, an opposite field RBI single from Smith, and a two-run triple from Jew.
All that offense made a winner out of Kyle Nelson, who moved to 3-3 on the year. His outing was much better than his numbers would suggest – four earned runs allowed over seven complete – as he gave up just one hit over six innings after allowing a leadoff home run to Rubalcaba in the bottom of the first.
Nelson's wipeout slider was working for him on Saturday, as he used the breaking pitch to notch a career-high nine strikeouts in the win. UCSB's standout lefty went back out after the long seventh inning with a focus on throwing strikes, and he was punished by CSUN with a pair of home runs to left that skewed his final line.
"Nice job today by Nelly," said Checketts. "After that first guy whacked it pretty good, he did a nice job of mixing pitches and keeping them off balance."
The Gauchos will go for the series win tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. behind the right arm of Chris Clements (1-5, 5.46 ERA), while CSUN will counter with righty Andrew Weston (3-1, 3.15 ERA). This will be the first rubber match between the two team's since 2009.