SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The first four hitters in the order combined for nine hits and four RBIs to lead San Diego State to a narrow 5-4 win over UC Santa Barbara in Sunday's rubber match at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
The Gauchos (17-20) led 4-2 after the third inning of the non-conference tilt, but the Aztecs (29-12) rallied for one run in the fifth and went ahead for good with a two-run sixth.
SDSU's bullpen combined to throw 6 2/3 shutout innings after a shaky start from right Cody Thompson, who walked three and hit two others while allowing all four of UCSB's runs in just 2 1/3 innings.
The Gauchos did most of their damage in the third inning, putting a together a three-run rally off Thompson. First baseman Austin Bush started it off with a opposite field line drive home run, his second of the week and team-leading eighth of the year.
A Kenny Corey walk and bloop double inside the right field line from JJ Muno spelled the end of the day for Thompson, and the Gauchos were able to cash in both those runners against reliever Harrison Pyatt as Tommy Jew lined a two-run single into left-center.
After a groundout, Dempsey Grover put UCSB back in business with a line double down the left field line, but the Gaucho rally was cut short when the next batter, Colton Burns, was called out on a bang-bang play at first base.
The Aztecs began their comeback in the fifth, stringing together three singles off Clements for a run.
The visitors sustained that momentum in their next at-bat, as Julian Escobedo tied the game with an RBI triple off the right-field fence. That three-bagger chased Clements from the game, and Steven Ledesma almost got the Gauchos out of it with a pop-fly to right and a ground ball off the bat of Chase Calabuig, but it was too deep in the 5-6 hole and went for an RBI infield single.
"I thought they did a better job with two strikes than we did", said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "They did strike out some, but over the weekend they worked the middle of the field and the four-hole. Their bullpen was solid and did a good job at the back end of the game.
The bullpens for both teams were lights out over the final three innings, with each team mustering just one single over that span. Ledesma, who tossed 2 2/3 scoreless, and Shea Barry, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, were at the forefront of an encouraging outing by the Gaucho bullpen, while five different Aztec hurlers combined to hold UCSB off the board over the final six innings.
A Bush single and wild pitch put the tying run in scoring position for UCSB in the bottom of the ninth, but SDSU closer CJ Saylor recovered to strike out Sam Cohen on a low change-up to end it and earn his 11th save of the year.
"For all the struggles we've had in the bullpen and all the work [pitching coach Matt] Harvey and I have done with them, I thought they came in with a good mentality, they were in attack mode, and had some presence out there," said Checketts. "I would take that as a definite positive today."
Cohen and Bush were UCSB's top offensive performers on Sunday, collecting two hits apiece.
The Gauchos wrap up a four-game homestand on Tuesday by hosting Cal State Bakersfield for a 3:00 p.m. contest. Freshman lefty Ben Brecht, who has a team-high four straight quality starts, is expected to toe the rubber for UCSB.