SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A third inning three-run moon shot off the bat of junior first baseman Tyler Kuresa and five shutout innings from the UC Santa Barbara bullpen led the Gauchos to a convincing 5-1 victory over Bakersfield on Opening Day at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
Kuresa, who led the team in slugging a year ago, smashed a 1-0 pitch over the right field fence for his first home run of the year. The ball carried well despite an usually cold day in Santa Barbara, just missing the outreached glove of CSUB rightfielder Chance Gusbeth. The roundtripper put the Gauchos up for good after having fallen behind on a Logan Trowbridge RBI single in the top of the second.
That two run lead turned out to be more than enough for the UCSB bullpen, which combined to allow just three hits and no runs over five innings of work. Sophomore righty Hector Lujan was especially impressive, allowing just one baserunner and striking out five – including the first four batters he faced – over three innings. The Mira Loma, Calif. native matched his entire freshman season strikeout tally with his strong Tuesday performance.
The bullpen's effort preserved the first career victory for sophomore Dylan Hecht, who was starting for the first time after serving as the team's closer last season.
Hecht pitched four-plus innings in a controlled start, striking out six and allowing three hits but struggling with his command at times on the way to four walks. He recovered strongly after allowing a run in the second inning, striking out the side and halting a potential Roadrunners rally.
The Pleasanton, Calif. native pitched himself into a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, but an excellent play from redshirt freshman centerfielder Andrew Calica prevented CSUB, who were coming off a weekend sweep of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, from cashing in. Calica got a good jump on a line drive off the bat of Trowbridge, diving forward to make a last-second catch before doubling off the runner at second and ending the inning.
Epperson, who was making his first career start at third after having spent the majority of his collegiate career in the outfield, looked like a natural at the position, making all three plays that came his way, including a highlight-reel diving snag of a line drive to his right in the eighth inning.
CSUB fell to 3-1 with Tuesday's loss. Starting pitcher James Barragan was tagged with the loss, allowing four runs and issuing six free passes in six innings pitched. Trowbridge was the only Roadrunner with multiple hits, while Soloman William's second inning double represented the team's only extra base hit.
After setting a new program record with 97 offensive hit by pitches in 2013, the Gauchos started just where they left off a year ago, getting plunked four times on Tuesday by CSUB pitchers.
This weekend, UCSB will hit the road for their first series of the year. They take on the San Jose State Spartans in a three-game series starting on Friday night at 6:00 p.m.