Gauchos Come Through in the Clutch Again, Defeat Fresno State 2-1

Jessica Johnston (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Jessica Johnston (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A late double from reigning Big West Field Player of the Week Jessica Johnston gave UCSB (25-20, 5-4) a 2-1 walk-off victory over Fresno State (25-18, 5-6) in the Gauchos' non-conference season finale on Wednesday afternoon.

A winner in four of its last five outings, UCSB is now tied for the second-most wins (25) in the Big West this season.

"Fresno did a good job of holding off our offense. It was just a reminder that we need to make adjustments earlier," head coach Brie Galicinao said. "[Johnston's] another player that needed to adjust throughout the game and she just refocused herself and found a way to come up big. I was happy for her."

Despite outhitting the Bulldogs 4-3 through six and a half innings, the Gauchos found themselves trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh. As they have for much of the season though, they got hot when they needed to, as seniors Jacqueline Hinojosa and Kristen Clark both notched singles with just one out on the board.

Johnston, who had gone 0-3 at the plate until that point, then stepped up to knock a hard double to right field, bringing home both runners to end the game at 2-1. The double was the junior outfielder's Big West-leading 13th of the season. It also marked the fourth time this season that UCSB has had a walk-off win.

"Since I had been unsuccessful my last three at bats, I was thinking, 'Something's getting done right now. This is going to be the one no matter what,'" Johnston said. "I went up there and just hacked it on the first strike I saw, and it ended up being a double. It's a good feeling."

A relatively slow offensive start to the game saw both teams manage just one hit each through the first four innings. The Bulldogs would be the first to score in the top of the fifth, as senior Christina Rodriguez scored an unearned run on a single up the middle by junior Savannah McHellon.

Clark finished 3-4 for a game-high three hits, also tying a season-high. Hinojosa added two hits of her own with a 2-3 mark at the plate, while Johnston and senior Emily Brucelas had one hit apiece.

Sophomore pitcher Veronika Gulvin (18-9) earned her fourth win in her last five starts, tallying three strikeouts.

With their latest victory, the Gauchos improve to 15-4 in games decided by two runs or less. More than a third of their 25 wins this year (9) have come in games where they were tied or trailing during the sixth inning or later.

"The middle of our lineup has really been picking up this year. Our hitting has just been amazing," Johnston said. "I think that going forward, we're adjusting better, we're coming through in tough situations and we're ready."

After seven straight games at home, UCSB will head back on the road for its final two Big West road series of 2017, beginning with Long Beach State this Saturday (1 and 3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.)