Gauchos Walk Off in Frantic, Frenzied Blue-Green Opener

Melanie Menor (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Melanie Menor (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos softball team found themselves down by seven runs with an inning and a half to go, but they managed to rally back in a wild nine-inning series opener to defeat the Cal Poly Mustangs 10-9 at Campus Diamond. This was only the third time this season that the Gauchos reached double-digits in runs as they set a new season-high for hits with 17, just two short of the all-time UCSB record for hits in a game set in 2003.

UCSB (19-33, 6-13 Big West) got the scoring started early in the bottom of the first thanks to junior first baseman Sierra Altmeyer's sac fly that scored freshman shortstop Maci Fines for the Gauchos to go up 1-0. Freshman centerfielder Rayna Cohen picked up an RBI of her own, her 24th on the year, by singling through the 5-6 hole to score freshman left fielder Sammy Fabian to double the lead.

Cal Poly (24-24, 8-11 Big West) tied the game in the top of the third thanks to leadoff shortstop Chelsea Convissar taking advantage of a Gaucho throwing error to score on left fielder Noellah Ramos' single, and third baseman Stephanie Heyward's RBI groundout bringing home Ramos in the next at-bat.

The hits continued but the scoring took a lull until the sixth inning, when both teams combined for a twelve-run inning. The top half of the inning saw Cal Poly score seven runs to leap ahead of the Gauchos 9-2, nearly threatening to end the game early via the run-rule had they been able to register one more run and UCSB were unable to score a run in the bottom half of the sixth. RBI singles from second baseman Alejandra Garcia and Convissar put the Mustangs up 4-2, and Ramos's sac fly added another run.

Then, the game was affected by controversy as catcher Makenna Young's two-RBI single brought home both centerfielder Amanda Sandoval and Convissar, but Convissar appeared to have been tagged out by senior catcher Samantha Lujan on the throw back from freshman right fielder Alyssa Lazatin. Instead, the umpire at home plate ruled her safe, much to the chagrin of the fans in attendance at Campus Diamond. A two-RBI triple from right fielder Crimson Kaiser added two more runs to the visitors' count, and the inning ended with a seven-run advantage to Cal Poly.

UCSB began the comeback immediately, with four RBI singles from Lazatin, junior second baseman Melanie Menor, Fines, and Fabian leaving the Gauchos two runs away from leveling the game.

The momentum carried over to the following inning, when Altmeyer singled in the first at-bat and an error by Cal Poly pitcher Dakota Casper allowed Cohen to reach base. Casper looked set for her second save of the season after she retired the next two Gaucho batters, but up stepped Lazatin for her second RBI single of her 2-for-4 day to score Altmeyer and put the Gauchos within one run of tying the game. Still with the pressure of two outs on Menor at the plate and the Mustang defense with runners on the corners for the home side, the Gauchos benefited from a wild pitch and passed ball in near-succession for Cohen to cross home plate to tie the game at 9 apiece.

The game finally reached its conclusion in the bottom of the ninth with Menor's RBI single, the 17th and final hit of the day for the Gauchos and the third of her own, scoring senior Lena Mayer who entered as a pinch-runner after Lujan's inning-opening single just moments before. The Gauchos sprinted out of the dugout to surround an elated Mayer, in her final series in blue and gold, to celebrate the fourth walkoff victory this season at Campus Diamond just seven minutes short of three hours after the game began.

"It's awesome to see a dogpile with Lena at the bottom there having the winning run. She went in and tagged out [Lujan] for the substitution and we want to go out with a high note for our seniors tomorrow," said UCSB head coach Galicinao.

Sophomore pitcher Felisha Noriega started the game and allowed seven hits and struck out four in 5.2 innings, with junior Goleta, Calif.-native Veronika Gulvin picking up her sixth win of the season in relief, her first since March 26 against Seattle University in the Gaucho Classic II. Casper was given the loss to fall to 1-10 on the year, with Mustang starter Lindsey Chalmers earning a no-decision.

The Gauchos round out their season tomorrow with the series-concluding doubleheader versus Cal Poly, with first pitches scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Following the end of the second game, seniors Samantha Lujan and Lena Mayer will be honored in a postgame ceremony.