The UC Santa Barbara baseball team, ranked Number Seven, extended toward its current nine-game winning streak with a dominant three-game sweep over the Long Beach State Dirtbags this past weekend.
Coming out of the series, the Gauchos now hold a 40-7 record, good for the highest winning percentage (0.85) in the nation. The record also marks the eighth time in the program’s history that the team has won forty or more games in a season, with three of those high-winning seasons coming under current head coach Andrew Checketts.
The Gauchos (40-7, 13-5) received contributions up and down the lineup throughout the series, featuring catcher Eric Yang (Jr.) (6 for 12, 1 HR, 4 RBI), outfielder Armani Smith (Jr.) (6 for 13, 6 R), and second baseman Andrew Martinez (So.) (5 for 9, 1 HR, 4 RBI) as standouts.
The first game of the series featured a solid performance from starter Ben Brecht (Jr.), who went 6.1 innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits. The Dirtbags (11-38, 5-13) struck first in the contest, plating a run on a Joy Cole RBI single in the second inning — but the Gauchos regained their footing with two runs of their own on a Marcos Castanon (So.) RBI double, followed by a Cole Mueller (So.) sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame.
The Gauchos would go on to score three more runs in the fifth inning, a run in the sixth, and another run in the eighth — all on their way to a comfortable 8-2 victory. The run in the sixth came courtesy of a Mueller solo home run, the first big fly of his career. With the victory, Brecht improved to a team-best 9-1 record.
Starter Jack Dashwood (So.), right behind Brecht with a record of 8-1, started last Saturday’s game pitching well, giving up only one run on five hits over five dominant innings. Martinez, Yang, and designated hitter Thomas Rowan each hit home runs for the Gauchos, who beat the Dirtbags handily in a 13-1 rout.
The Gauchos struck early against Dirtbags starter Zak Baayoun in the final game of the series on Sunday, driving in six runs in the bottom of the first. The trio of Yang, Rowan, and Martinez was at the center of the action once again, each with an RBI single to start the scoring.
Following a Tommy Jew (Jr.) sacrifice fly to put the Gauchos up 4-0, Castanon capped off the rally with a two-run home run left center. The early offensive outburst would be more than enough for starter Rodney Boone (Fr.), who limited the Dirtbags to three runs over five innings, and reliever Shea Barry (Jr.) who pitched a spotless 2.2 innings in relief.
With the series victory, the Gauchos remain on top in a three-team race for the Big West title. Currently, UCSB (15-3) sits two games ahead of Cal Poly SLO (13-5) and three games above UC Irvine (12-6) in the conference standings with two weeks left to play in the season.
For the Gauchos, a first place finish would mean the program’s first conference title since the 1986 season and its first under head coach Checketts.
“We know we’re good, we know we’re going to win over 40 games — we’ve known that for a little bit of time here,” assistant coach Donegal Fergus told KCSB radio. “So I think our guys are starting to smell that the Big West title is within their grasp, and I think you saw that this weekend.”