UCSB’s bats came alive this weekend against Big West rival UC Riverside, and the Gauchos took two out of three games against the Highlanders in an action-packed series. The Gauchos amassed a total of 33 runs on 40 hits in the three-game set behind strong offensive performances from shortstop Clay Fischer and center fielder Tommy Jew.
It has been an inconsistent season so far for the young Gauchos; 25 out of the 37 players on their active roster are underclassmen. The squad has enjoyed its fair share of highs (a series victory over conference leader Cal State Fullerton) and lows (getting no-hit by Fullerton starter Colton Eastman in the same series). Overall the future looks bright, both for this season and for seasons to come. Jew, a sophomore, and Fischer, a junior, are two immediate reasons for optimism.
“[Fischer and Jew] are two of the rocks at the heart of this team. I mean, they’re incredible,” said KCSB radio announcer Arthur Wilkie following the second game of the series, a 14-2 win by the Gauchos.
Jew, who came into the series with only two hits in his last 21 at-bats, broke out of his slump in a big way in the Friday night opener. He went 4-5 at the plate and hit a game-tying, two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning. Fischer would go on to hit a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 12th, and the Gauchos won the game 9-8.
Jew followed up his heroics in the first game with an equally impressive effort in game two of the series. The Gauchos center fielder could not be stopped, going 4-4 with two runs scored and five RBI on the afternoon. Fischer also went 4-4 in the ballgame, scoring four runs and driving in two in the blowout victory.
While the Gauchos dropped the last game 14-10, the series victory leaves them with a 20-18-1 overall record and a 6-6 record in conference play.
Not to be outdone, the Gaucho pitching staff also turned in a number of solid performances over the weekend. In the series opener, sophomore starter Chris Lincoln battled through early control issues and a pair of defensive miscues by UCSB to allow six runs, two earned over 5 ⅔ innings.
After giving up a two-run home run to Riverside batter Anthony Lepre in the first inning, Lincoln retired 12 of the next 15 batters he faced. Lincoln didn’t allow a single runner to score through the fifth inning. The Highlanders chased Lincoln in the sixth, rallying for four runs in the top of the frame following a pair of Gaucho errors. Overall, it was another positive showing for the young right-hander, who has enjoyed a breakout season during the 2018 campaign.
Saturday’s game featured a strong showing by junior starter Steven Ledesma, who pitched six innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts. After cruising through the first four innings, Ledesma ran into trouble in the fifth frame as the Highlanders loaded the bases with two outs.
However, the Gaucho right-hander quickly got out of trouble with a flyout off the bat of Colby Schultz. Riverside mounted a threat again in the sixth inning — a Lepre RBI single got the Highlanders on the board, and a double by right fielder Dean Miller put men on second and third base with nobody out.
Ledesma once again escaped the inning unscathed, striking out the Highlanders’ Robert Cruz and home run leader Connor Cannon before getting Dylan Orick to ground out to end the threat.
Lincoln and Ledesma’s gutsy performances over the weekend were a testament to the resilience shown by UCSB’s starters during a season in which staff ace Noah Davis suffered a season-ending elbow injury after his first start. Both Lincoln (2.19 ERA) and Ledesma (2.55) have been revelations out of the bullpen. While freshman starter Jack Dashwood (3 ER over 1 ⅔ innings on Sunday) has struggled at times, he has shown flashes of brilliance.
“The pitching staff has been a pleasant surprise this year,” Wilkie said, “with [Davis] out they’re definitely making the most out of the opportunities they’re getting which I believe is big for them.”