Masterful Nelson Leads UCSB Past NM State, 8-0

Kyle Nelson (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Kyle Nelson (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Behind 8 1/3 standout innings from junior left-hander Kyle Nelson, UC Santa Barbara evened its series with New Mexico State via an 8-0 shutout victory at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

Facing one of the most consistent offensive teams in the country, Nelson completely shut down the Aggies (14-10) on Saturday, notching a career-best eight strikeouts and never allowing a runner past first base. Entering the game with a .323 team batting average, NM State managed just three singles in the contest, suffering its first shutout in almost two years (Mar. 29, 2015 vs. Sacramento State).

Also encouraging for the Gauchos (8-12) was that Nelson, a converted closer, reached the 100-pitch plateau for the second consecutive weekend while pitching into the ninth for the first time ever. With the near-complete game shutout, he lowered his season ERA by more than a run, from 4.62 to 3.48.

"We needed that bounceback win today," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "We put pressure on them and did a good job and we didn't get two or three runs today, we got six early."

"Nelly was pretty good today with his three-pitch mix and did a nice job making big pitches. He had his slider going today, he was able to put guys away, and his fastball was a little sneaky. When he has all three pitches going for him, he's tough to hit."

Though little offense was needed thanks to Nelson's excellence on the mound, UCSB provided its starter with plenty thanks to another early-game outburst, with the Gauchos producing back-to-back rallies to pull ahead 6-0 after the second inning.

Senior left fielder Billy Fredrick kickstarted UCSB's offense in the first, fouling off four straight two-strike pitches before wearing a fastball off his leg to get on base. Fredrick's gritty AB eventually produced the game-winning run, as he moved to third on an Armani Smith single and a passed ball before scoring on an Austin Bush groundout down the first base line.

The Gauchos opened up the game the very next inning, with the first five batters of the frame notching hits to plate four runs. Redshirt junior Dempsey Grover landed the biggest blow of that rally, lining a 1-2 pitch inside the left field line for a two-run double.

Smith, who went 2-4 for his sixth multi-hit performance in the last seven games, later capped the scoring with a triple down the field line past a diving Dan Hetzel, coming in moments later on another passed ball.

After the second inning, NM State starter Marcel Renteria settled into a rhythm, holding UCSB to just a pair of hits in his final three frames. Aggie reliever Dalton Shalberg looked good early against the Gauchos, but gave up a pair of runs in the eighth on a Josh Adams RBI double over the left fielder's head and a run-scoring opposite field single from Colton Burns.

Nelson meanwhile was in full cruise control after being staked to a 6-0 lead.

The San Francisco native was at his best in the fifth inning, getting NM State's 6-7-8 hitters to all fan on sliders to strike out the side in order.  He allowed a solid single to left to start the sixth inning, but that was the final hit he would surrender. Nelson received a little help from Smith out in right field to escape the inning, with UCSB's standout freshman making a diving shoestring catch of a Austin Botello liner for the third out.

Freshman right hander Willie Traynor finished off the Aggies with two quick outs in the ninth.

UCSB will go for the series win tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Junior right-hander Chris Clements (0-3, 8-10) will start for UCSB, facing NM State lefty Johnathan Groff (2-3, 3.23 ERA). will carry a live audio broadcast of the game.