RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Freshman center fielder Tommy Jew played the ninth inning hero in Sunday's series finale at UC Riverside, scoring the go-ahead run after tripling in the top half and then preventing extra bases with a highlight reel diving catch in the bottom half as the Gauchos salvaged the three-game set with a 6-5 win.
It was a nice show of resiliency from UCSB (19-22, 5-7 Big West) which blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning but bounced right back to take the lead again.
Moments after letting the Gauchos go back ahead, UCR (16-23, 4-11) looked like it might rally for a game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth as AJ Sawyer stung a line drive into the right-center gap, but Jew ranged to his left and made a full-length diving catch to prevent a likely triple and possible inside-the-park home run.
After that web gem, UCSB closer Shea Barry shut the door on the Highlanders by striking out Mark Contreras and getting Michael Farris to hit a weak grounder to short for the game's final out.
Also singling in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to a team-high 17 games, Jew was one of just several offensive standouts for the Gauchos on Sunday.
Starting his first game in almost two months, first baseman Kyle Plantier rewarded head coach Andrew Checketts' faith with a two-run homer in the fourth to put UCSB up 3-2.
Junior catcher Dempsey Grover, who had a season-high three hits and three runs scored, plated another run for UCSB in the fourth by taking advantage of some UCR miscues, reaching second after Farris, the third baseman, threw the ball away trying to retire Grover at first on an infield single, then tagging up on a Colton Burns lineout before scoring on a wild pitch from Richard Delgado. Grover later blasted a leadoff homer in the sixth to push UCSB's advantage to 5-2.
After struggling against a trio of young UCSB youngsters – starter Chris Lincoln, righty Kevin Chandler, and lefty Ben Brecht – Riverside cut the lead to two on a Contreras RBI single in the seventh and then tied the game in the eighth on a two-run single from second baseman Cody Sporrer.
That tie was short-lived however, as the Gauchos would go on to score the eventual game-winning run just minutes later. Jew's triple, a line shot into the left-center gap, started off the decisive rally, which was finished off by a sac fly from Kenny Corey, who put a good swing on an 0-2 pitch to send it out deep enough to center field.
A native of Moreno Valley just minutes away from the Riverside Sports Complex, Lincoln fared well in his first collegiate start. The freshman right-hander gave up just two earned runs, both on solo home runs in the second inning, and struck out six before being lifted with two outs in the fourth after reaching his pitch count.
Chandler followed Lincoln up with 1 1/3 innings of solid relief, giving up just a single. Brecht came on in the sixth and struck out the side. Barry, who has now run his scoreless streak up to 12 1/3 innings, earned his first collegiate win.
"Tommy's catch was special, and I'm glad he caught it, because if he didn't it was probably an inside-the-park home run," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "I liked seeing our freshmen, Lincoln, Brecht, and Barry, go out there and do well. I liked the resiliency. We coughed up the lead again in the eighth but we were able to find a way to come back and make it work."
UCSB returns to action next weekend by hosting UC Davis for a three-game conference series at home starting on Friday at 3:00 p.m.