Gauchos Come Back Twice, Walk Off Hawai'i on Mueller Single

Freshman Cole Mueller went 2-for-3 and hit a walk-off RBI single to win the game for the Gauchos. (Photo by Carl Wolford)
Freshman Cole Mueller went 2-for-3 and hit a walk-off RBI single to win the game for the Gauchos. (Photo by Carl Wolford)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos baseball team (27-27-1, 10-13 Big West) won their first series in a month and the third in their Big West campaign, following up Thursday's 4-3 result against the University of Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (26-24, 10-13 Big West) with a come-from-behind 6-5 walk-off victory in the penultimate game of the season for both teams at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. With the win, the Gauchos improve to 9-6 in one-run games and have a chance to achieve their fifth winning season in six years with a victory in the series finale.

Gaucho starter sophomore RHP Chris Lincoln retired the first five batters he faced in his first outing since his seven-inning, five-hit, four-strikeout performance last Saturday at Cal Poly, but the Moreno Valley, Calif. native ran into trouble from the sixth batter onward.

First baseman Eric Ramirez hit a single to left center, followed by a stand-up double by Thursday's 3-RBI third baseman Ethan Lopez to put runners on at second and third for the Rainbow Warriors. The rally continued after second baseman Dustin Demeter was walked to load the bases, and then the runs came in off respective RBI and two-RBI singles from Hawai'i centerfielder Dylan Vchulek and shortstop Maaki Yamazaki to put the Rainbow Warriors up 3-0 after the top of the second inning.

After the top third of the Gaucho lineup was struck out in order by Hawaii starting RHP Brody Hagel-Pitt in the first inning, UCSB went five straight innings with a leadoff hit.

The first in that streak came from junior catcher Thomas Rowan with a stand-up double hit deep along the right field line. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, freshman designated hitter Drew Williams brought Rowan home with an RBI single, his 14th RBI on the year, to cut the Hawai'i lead to 3-1.

In the top of the third inning, the trouble continued for the Gauchos. Despite sensational defensive efforts like UCSB sophomore centerfielder Tommy Jew's diving catch on a flyout from catcher Kekai Rios and Lincoln's second strikeout of the ballgame, the Rainbow Warriors again rallied with two outs to add a run to their tally via Lopez's RBI single, his fourth of the weekend.

It wasn't until the bottom of the fourth inning that the Gauchos closed the gap on the visitors once again, making it a one-run game thanks to junior left-fielder Tevin Mitchell reaching double digits in his longest hitting streak of the season with an RBI single and freshman third baseman Jason Willow's RBI groundout bringing Mitchell across the plate after he stole his seventh bag of the season.

While the Gauchos were excelling on their leadoff hitting, they found themselves struggling to hit with two outs on the board. It wasn't until the bottom of the seventh inning that the Gauchos got their first in that situation, with Jew extending his hitting streak to 14 straight games after starting off the day hitless in three plate appearances. The Gauchos loaded the bases in the inning but were fruitless in their efforts to bring the tying or go-ahead runs home.

However, the hosts didn't have to wait long for another bases-loaded opportunity, with two walks and a single putting Mitchell, freshman first baseman Cole Mueller, and Monday's sophomore pinch-hit hero Eric Yang, replaced by pinch-runner freshman Blake Mann, on the basepaths in the bottom of the eighth inning. With no outs, Willow brought Mann home off a sac fly to center field to tie the game at four apiece, but the Gauchos were unable to take the lead and left two runners stranded as they headed to the top of the ninth inning.

Hawai'i were held without a hit from the fifth through eighth innings thanks to sophomore LHP Ben Brecht's eight strikeouts in relief of Lincoln. It looked as though Brecht was well on his way to closing out the game, going ahead 0-2 in the count against Demeter to start off the inning. Instead, the second baseman had other ideas, extending the at-bat to 17 pitches after fouling off the ball 12 times before winning the battle with a solo home run to deep right center field to put the Rainbow Warriors up 5-4.

For the second straight game, Hawai'i made the game interesting in the closing act, and the Gauchos responded accordingly.

Looking to take the lead and win the game rather than protect it like they did in the series opener, UCSB put together hits via a one-out Jew single and Rowan double to put two runners on in scoring position. Junior Sam Cohen was sent to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Williams, and the gamble paid off for head coach Andrew Checketts as Cohen's sac fly brought Jew home with his arms open towards the 400-strong crowd in attendance.

With two outs on the board, Mueller then capped off his 2-for-3 day with an RBI single in the ensuing at-bat to send the Gauchos walking off for the third time in the last four games at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

Freshman RHP Chris Troye (1-4) picked up his first win of the season after replacing Brecht in the top of the ninth inning and seeing out the final two outs for the Gaucho defense. RHP Dylan Thomas allowed four hits and three earned runs in two innings of work, taking the loss to drop to 3-2.

With 13 hits in this game and a total of 25 hits in the series thus far, the Gauchos have enjoyed their best two-game stretch of offense since the first two games of their series vs UC Riverside at the end of April, in which they tallied 29 hits. The boost in offense is welcome after being held to just 31 hits over the four games leading into the weekend series, an average of just 7.75 hits per game.

The Gauchos close out their season with the third and final game of their series against the Rainbow Warriors on Saturday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium at 2:00 p.m. A pregame ceremony will take place prior to the game to honor UCSB's senior players.