SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Many times this season the UC Santa Barbara failed to make that big pitch or that big hit in big games to come up with the win. Today, the Gauchos did both as a strong effort at both the plate and the mound led to the home team pulling out the clutch 4-3 victory against Hawai'i.
With the win, Santa Barbara (26-27-1, 9-13 Big West) has an opportunity this season to still finish above .500 with wins against Hawai'i (26-23, 10-12 Big West) in these final two games of the series. With 26 overall victories this year, UCSB has already surpassed its win total from last season.
For most of the afternoon, the Gauchos were playing with a comfortable lead of two runs thanks in large part from a great performance from senior starting pitcher Stevie Ledesma on the mound and a strong day at the plate from sophomore Armani Smith, who went 3-3 on the day with two doubles.
In the first inning, however, Ledesma found himself in some quick trouble allowing the first batter of the Rainbow Warrior line-up to get a base knock. He then walked a batter with two outs in the frame to put runners on first and second. Ledesma would get out of the jam striking out the next player.
Ledesma was on fire from then until the seventh allowing just two hits in between the second and sixth innings.
In the meantime, the Gaucho offense built up a lead for their senior pitcher adding one run apiece in the third and fourth innings. In the third, Smith started the inning with a double to right field and would come around to score thanks to an RBI single from junior shortstop Clay Fisher. In the fourth, a sac fly from freshman third baseman Jason Willow made the score 2-0.
Hawai'i would finally get on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh scoring two runs off of Ledesma. Ledesma got two quick outs to begin the seventh but then a single gave the Rainbow Warriors a chance to tie the game up. Junior Ethan Lopez, who went 3-4 on the day, then delivered the big bomb blasting a shot to right field tying the game up a 2-2.
Ledesma gave up another base knock before settling down and getting the next batter to fly out to end the inning. It seemed like it was going to be yet another game that UCSB was going to let slip out of its fingertips but the Gauchos roared back in the bottom of the seventh getting two runs of their own.
Just like Hawai'i in the top half of the frame, UCSB didn't get the action started until it had two outs. Still, the Gauchos acted on the opportunity as first Smith worked a double and again came around to score from a Fisher RBI single. Sophomore center fielder Tommy Jew then extended his hitting streak to 13 games as he delivered an RBI base knock to put the home team back ahead by two.
Ledesma would respond with a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth ending his day. In what will most likely be his final appearance in a Gaucho uniform, Ledesma was great yet again earning the win, the seventh of the season for him, after going eight innings allowing just six hits, two earned runs while walking two batters and striking out eight.
Handing a two-run lead to the pen seemed like it should've been easy, however, the Gauchos did not make it easy. Junior Alex Patterson was the first tasked to come pick up the save but he gave up two hits and one earned run managing to only get one out. UCSB then turned to junior Chris Clements to get the final two outs.
Inheriting runners on first and second, Clements had a tough task, but he stepped up and got the final two outs solidifying the 4-3 Gaucho win.
It was a big day for Smith as his 3-3 day bumped his batting average to .228 a much-improved mark from him batting under .200 at some point this season. In his last six games, Smith has batted .318 going 7-22.
UCSB will continue its series against Hawai'i at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium with Chris Lincoln on the bump.