SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Junior left fielder Joey Epperson provided a satisfying finish for Gauchos fans in Sunday's rubber match with No. 19 UC Irvine, smacking a walk-off home run off Anteaters closer Race Parmenter in the bottom of the ninth inning to erase a two-run deficit and give UCSB a 7-6 win to clinch their second series of the year over a ranked opponent.
Trailing 6-4 at the time, UCSB's three-run ninth got started when sophomore center fielder Cameron Newell led off the inning with a swinging-bunt single to third base. After a stolen base – his tenth of the season – and a wild pitch, right fielder Luke Swenson walked to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Pinch-hitter Parker Miles brought the Gauchos within one by hitting a sacrifice fly that scored Newell, but Dalton Kelly – another pinch-hitter – struck out to put UC Irvine one out away from a win.
Epperson – who was already 2-3 to that point with an RBI and a run scored – then stepped in, and immediately stepped out, sending a first-pitch fastball over the left-center field fence to clinch the Gauchos' fifth consecutive home series win. To add insult to injury, it was Epperson's first home run in a UCSB uniform.
The Lafayette, Calif. native extended his hitting streak to a dozen games with his 3-4 performance, matching Newell for the longest hitting streak by a Gaucho this season. With an 8-14 line over the weekend, he compiled a lofty 1.000 slugging percentage. Newell's ninth-inning single saved his new hitting streak, which currently sits at 11.
The Gauchos – winners of thier last three series – move to 25-20, 10-8 with the win, while UC Irvine fell to 29-15, 11-7. UCSB has still not lost a series at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this year, going 5-0-1 in their six home sets, with the split coming against USF from Feb. 22-24.
The eventual win was reminiscent of yesterday's 5-3 victory, as the Anteaters again fought back from a 3-0 deficit before eventually faltering.
The Gauchos put three runs on the board early off UCI starter Andrew Morales, who entered the game with a 9-0 record and 1.60 ERA. Sophomore second baseman Woody Woodward provided RBI singles in the first and third innings, while Trinkwon preceded Woodward's second base hit with an RBI double down the left field line.
UCSB starter Andrew Vasquez locked down the Anteaters lineup through the first three innings, racking up five punchouts against just one hit. However, he wasn't as successful the second time through the lineup, giving up a two-run home run to Scott Gottschling in the fourth – his second of the series and the season – and leaving the bases loaded before making way for Greg Mahle in the sixth inning.
Mahle allowed just one run to score in that sticky situation, closing the book on Vasquez and giving him a line of 5 1/3 innings pitched with three runs and five hits allowed with three walks and six strikeouts for the day.
The Anteaters kept it rolling off Mahle, netting a trio of two-out hits to push another pair of runs across in the seventh and give them their first lead of the day at 5-3. Epperson's RBI single in the bottom of the seventh was negated by Connor Spencer's ninth inning RBI base hit, which set the stage for UCSB's second walk-off win of the year in the bottom half of the ninth.
Jared Wilson picked up the win for the Gauchos – his first decision of the year – as the senior righty allowed one run while pitching the ninth. Parmenter suffered the loss for UCI, dropping his record to 2-3.
Trinkwon added three hits for the Gauchos in the win, while freshman right-hander Dylan Hecht was the only UCSB pitcher to not allow a run, striking out the side in the eighth inning as part of a scoreless, 1 1/3 inning outing.
For the second straight week, the Gauchos will not be in action midweek, but instead will travel south to take on the second-place CSUN Matadors in a crucial series for both teams. The Matadors trail league-leading Cal State Fullerton by one game in the conference standings, while UCSB finds itself one game behind UC Irvine and Cal Poly for third place in the Big West.