Yang, Gauchos Walk Off Pilots in Final Midweek Tilt

Eric Yang (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Eric Yang (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Junior left-fielder Tevin Mitchell's 3-for-4 day and sophomore catcher Eric Yang's pinch-hit walk-off RBI single ensured victory for UC Santa Barbara (25-27-1, 8-13 Big West) in their fifth-ever matchup versus the Portland Pilots (23-30, 12-15 West Coast) and their first since 1993 as the Gauchos won 1-0 at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The one-run margin of victory is the closest in the two teams' series history.

Gaucho starting junior RHP Luke Andrews set the tone for the midweek affair with two consecutive 1-2-3 innings and by retiring 18 of the first 21 batters he faced through six innings, only allowing two hits and a walk while striking out seven.

Not to be outdone, Portland starting RHP Kevin Baker and reliever LHP Jordan Horak combined for 6 innings of two-hit, two-walk ball for the Pilots, with Baker recording seven strikeouts.

Andrews began the top of the seventh inning with a strikeout onto left fielder Cody Hawken, but his walks issued to first baseman Ryan Hoogerwerf and shortstop Chad Stevens prompted head coach Andrew Checketts to make a change and bring in freshman LHP Josh Candau, who saw out the inning for the Gauchos.

Held to two hits up to that point, the UCSB offense started to come alive over the next two innings with a double to left center from Mitchell in the bottom of the seventh and a single from sophomore right fielder Armani Smith in the eighth. Both were left stranded for the home side as the game progressed to the ninth inning.

Candau started off the final inning by forcing a groundout from centerfielder Beau Brundage and striking out Hawken for the fourth time in the game. Hoogerwerf singled through the 3-4 hole for the Pilots' first hit since the fourth inning, but third baseman Daniel Lopez lined out to Gaucho third baseman Jason Willow, with the Canadian making a spectacular rapid-reaction play to end the inning.

The beginning of the bottom of the ninth may have made it seem as if the Gauchos were heading to extra innings for the fifth time in their last nine games at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium as the first two batters struck out. Then, Mitchell singled and stole his sixth bag of the year to put himself in scoring position. On the next pitch, Willow advanced him to third with a single of his own to put the winning run 90 feet away from home. Then, Checketts put in Yang to pinch-hit for right-fielder Michael McAdoo, and Yang rewarded his decision four pitches later with a single through the right side to score the lone, game-winning run and send his teammates sprinting out of the dugout to surround him.

Andrews earned a no-decision in his third start of the month, all of them in midweek games vs non-conference opponents, while Candau improved to 3-1 with the win. The duo was key in shutting down the key batters in the Portland lineup, with the top third of the order, including a pinch-hit at-bat from Collin Runge, batting 1-for-11 and Brundage and Hawken, the only Pilots batting over .300 on the season, going a combined 1-for-8 with Hawken striking out four times, three times looking.

Former UC Riverside RHP Nick Shur was tagged with the loss for the visitors to drop to 0-2 on the season.

The Gauchos close out the regular season with a three-game series at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium against Hawai'i, beginning with their matchup on Thursday at 3:00 p.m.