UCSB Drops Opener at CS Fullerton 8-5

Sam Cohen (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Sam Cohen (photo by Eric Isaacs)

FULLERTON, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara hit a trio of home runs early to build a 4-1 lead in the team's Big West series opener at Cal State Fullerton, but the Gauchos were ultimately doomed by the longball as the Titans answered with a game-tying three run shot off the bat of Sahid Valenzuela before Cody Hudgins struck a decisive blow with a three-run roundtripper in the bottom of the sixth to deliver an 8-4 win.

The Gauchos (20-26, 6-10 Big West) jumped all over CSF (30-16, 11-5) starter Connor Seabold early in the ESPNU-televised game, with junior first baseman Austin Bush launching a no-doubt two-run shot over the center field fence in the top of the first to put UCSB ahead 2-0. The home run gave Bush 12 on the season, extending his Big West lead and setting a new single-season career high.

After the Titans answered with a run in the bottom of the frame, UCSB stretched its lead to 4-1 in the third with booming solo shots from freshman right fielder Armani Smith and sophomore DH Sam Cohen. The trio of home runs was especially impressive considering Seabold entered the game with just two home runs allowed on the season.

The Gauchos' lead turned out to be short-lived, as the Titans put together a game-tying rally in the bottom of the third, with all three runs coming across on the first collegiate home run by Valenzuela, Fullerton's freshman second baseman. The first two runners of that rally reached on consecutive one-out line singles.

After the equalizer from Valenzuela, Nelson went on to retire seven straight Titan batters but ran into trouble in the sixth after allowing a leadoff single on a line-drive comebacker that glanced off his glove and caromed behind the mound. A sac bunt and base hit to left field brought in the go ahead-run, but the coupe de grace came a couple batters later when Hudgins sent Nelson's 1-1 offering into the left field netting.

As shaky as he was early on, Seabold bounced back to shut down UCSB the rest of the way after the two-homer third. Dempsey Grover reached on an error to lead off the fourth, but Seabold would strand him and then end his outing by going nine-up, nine-down over innings four through seven. The right-hander earned the win to improve to 8-4, ending the day with a final line of four earned runs allowed on seven hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts over seven full.

The CSF ace made way in the eighth for righty Blake Workman, who worked a scoreless frame in the eighth. Jake Pavletich closed out the game with a shutout ninth.

"Seabold just looked different under the lights," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "It was pretty dramatic the difference in how we saw the ball once it got dark. He was a little crisper and executed his pitches better late in the game, but we just struggled once dusk set in."

Grover singled in the second for UCSB to extend his team-best hitting streak to eight games.

The Gaucho bullpen was near spotless at the back end of the game. Junior right-hander Steven Ledesma took over for Nelson with two outs in the ninth and allowed just one walk over his 1 1/3 innings of work. In his NCAA debut, freshman righty Liam Steigerwald induced three straight fly outs to left in the eighth inning.

UCSB and Cal State Fullerton resume their series tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. in a game televised on FOX Sports Prime Ticket. Sophomore righty Noah Davis (6-3, 4.57 ERA) is slated to take the ball for UCSB after two weeks on the shelf with shoulder stiffness. He will be opposed by CSF lefty John Gavin (5-2, 3.33 ERA).