by Steve Parkhurst
The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos and Long Beach State Dirtbags met at Bohl Diamond in Long Beach, California for a four game weekend series of Big West Conference competition this weekend. The Gauchos have been rated #21 by College Baseball Nation, but a trip down the road to visit the Dirtbags offered the opportunity to make a statement and to gauge where they are as a program right now.
Friday offered a matchup of aces as Dirtbags right-hander Johnathan Lavallee faced-off with Michael McGreevy, who entered with a 5-0 record.
The Gauchos got on the board first as they struck twice in the second inning against Lavallee, highlighted by a Bryce Willits RBI double to left. Leading 2-0 in the top of the fourth, a poorly executed rundown effort by the Dirtbags infield led to a third run, making it 3-0 Santa Barbara.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Javy Rosales doubled into the left field corner and made the score 3-1 as Long Beach started to claw back into the game. Chris Jimenez tied the game with a two-run home run in the fifth, and before the inning was out, Connor Kokx added a solo home run to give the Dirtbags the 4-3 lead.
Scoreless the rest of the way, Long Beach reliever Devereaux Harrison closed out the 4-3 opening night victory in the ninth and picked up his seventh save.
Johnathan Lavallee (4-1) got the win for his work over 5.1 innings pitched where he gave up five hits and struck out seven. Michael McGreevy (5-1) took his first loss of the season while pitching seven innings allowing all four runs and striking out seven.
A sunless sky greeted the two teams as Saturday’s doubleheader got underway.
Luis Ramirez was the starter for Long Beach in Saturday’s first game; he was countered by Santa Barbara’s Rodney Boone. The two hurlers were locked in a pitchers duel through the first six innings as the game was scoreless going into the seventh.
The Gauchos loaded the bases for Jordan Sprinkle who promptly hammered a grand slam in the seventh to not only break up the tie, but to blow the game open with one swing. Rodney Boone was lifted in favor of Carter Benbrook as the Dirtbags looked to get back in the game. But no matter who was pitching for the Gauchos, the Dirtbags could not connect in Saturday’s first game.
Santa Barbara added two insurance runs in the ninth to open a 6-0 advantage. Benbrook went the final three innings and closed out the contest in the bottom of the inning to preserve the shutout and the win. Boone and Benbrook scattered just six base hits and struck out fourteen Long Beach batters in the shutout.
In game two, Dirtbags lefty Alfredo Ruiz was given the ball and he was opposed by Christopher Troye.
The Gauchos were the first to strike with a run in the second inning on an RBI single by Bryce Willits. Long Beach State responded in the fourth with a Jesse Lopez two-run single through the left side. The Dirtbags could not hold the lead for long as Santa Barbara answered with a run in the fifth to tie it up at two.
Still tied at two going to the seventh, a Cole Cummings RBI double for the Gauchos gave them the 3-2 lead. Once again, that was immediately answered by the Dirtbags in the bottom half of the inning. A single by Tanner Carlson was followed by a walk, then Calvin Estrada drove a double down the right field line to tie the game.
The trouble continued for the Gauchos as they issued an intentional walk to Connor Kokx to load the bases, Kokx was 2-for-3 in the game. A wild pitch allowed a run to score and gave the Dirtbags a one run lead, and moments later a bases loaded walk to Javy Rosales made the score 5-3.
Broc Mortensen led off the eighth with a home run to close the deficit to just a run at 5-4, part of a 2-for-3 effort by Mortensen. But, once again, with Gauchos on base, Devereaux Harrison came in from the bullpen for Long Beach and ended the threat of a bigger inning. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth for the Dirtbags, Harrison closed out the game despite consecutive singles which put the tying run on second base and a potential go-ahead run on first base.
The 5-4 victory allowed Matt Fields (1-1) to pick up the win while Cory Lewis (4-2) took the loss. Devereaux Harrison earned a tough five-out save, his eighth of the season, which also leads the league.
Sunday gave Long Beach a chance to run away with the weekend series 3-1, and it gave the Gauchos a chance to split the series on the road.
Jack Noble took the hill for the Dirtbags in Sunday’s finale while James Callahan got the nod for the Gauchos.
Three singles in the bottom of the first gave Long Beach an early 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Cole Cummings tied things up with a leadoff home run.
Tied at one in the sixth, Chase Luttrell singled and later scored in the inning as Long Beach moved back in front 2-1. The lead was short-lived as a two-out home run in the top of the seventh tied the game at two. Noble was terrific in his Sunday start and would exit after the seventh having struck out ten and walking none and allowing the Gauchos just two runs.
First baseman Chase Luttrell singled for the third time in the game to lead off the eighth; he scored the previous two times he had singled earlier in the game. Connor Kokx followed with a two-run blast to put the Dirtbags in front 4-2. Long Beach added one more run when a triple was followed by a wild pitch as the Dirtbags took the 5-2 lead into the ninth.
Santa Barbara was not ready to go quietly. The Gauchos slowly tied the game at five by scoring a run at a time as they brought nine batters to the plate in the frame.
Chase Luttrell loaded the bases for Long Beach with one out on his fourth single of the day in a 4-for-6 effort, but a line-drive double play at first base ended the rally as the teams went to extra innings.
All was quiet until the twelfth when Gauchos designated hitter Christian Kirtley launched a towering blast over the wall in left field for a three-run home run that put the Gauchos in front 8-5.
The Gauchos closed it out in the twelfth on the arm of Clayton Hall (1-0) who pitched the final four innings of the contest and picked up his first win of the season. Six unanswered runs by Santa Barbara from the top of the ninth until the end of the twelfth inning was the story of this game.
UC Santa Barbara is now 26-12 overall and 17-7 in the Big West Conference as they look to stay a part of the national conversation about the top twenty-five teams. Long Beach State is 12-11 overall and 10-10 in the conference after the weekend.