SAN DIEGO – UC Santa Barbara on Friday afternoon faced off against No. 22 Kentucky in the opener of the inaugural Tony Gwynn Classic, a prestigious tournament designed to honor one of the top hitters in baseball history.
The Gauchos proceeded to put on a hitting clinic that would have made the former San Diego State head coach and MLB Hall of Famer proud, as every starter collected a hit and all but one scored a run en route to an 11-4 victory over the Wildcats.
UCSB (5-1) got on the board with a three-run second inning, tacked on another in the fourth, and then put the game away with a four-run seventh.
"Our guys had a good approach all game," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "They were on time with their swings and squared up a lot of fastballs in hitter's counts."
Designated hitter Austin Bush had the biggest bat for the Gauchos (5-1), going 3-5 with a pair of RBIs and a moonshot 430-foot home run over the center field fence that cemented the game's outcome in the top of the seventh.
"They had thrown me pretty much all fastballs in my previous at-bats so with a 2-0 count I was definitely sitting on that pitch," said Bush. "Once I saw it, I put a good swing on it and was fortunate enough to hit it out."
Third baseman Ryan Clark (three hits, three RBIs), right fielder Michael McAdoo (three RBIs), and catcher Thomas Rowan (2-5) all had big days with the stick as well, making the afternoon a relatively painless one for starting pitcher Shane Bieber.
UCSB's ace right-hander was in cruise control for the majority of the contest, pitching into the seventh inning while allowing just three earned runs and striking out five. The control specialist issued no free passes and didn't even reach a two-ball count until the fifth inning.
"Bieber was really good early, in the zone with all three pitches," said Checketts. "He was successful against a lineup stacked with left-handed hitters and was overall tough to hit today."
Bieber began to run out of gas in the seventh, giving up three consecutive singles to start the inning. As has often been the case for UCSB so far in this young season, lefty reliever Kyle Nelson came in to pour water on the Kentucky rally and push momentum back into UCSB's favor.
Entering the game with the bases loaded, Nelson got UK cleanup hitter Tristan Pompey to swing over an outside slider to end the inning.
UCSB's stud southpaw then went on to pitch the final two innings without incident, ending his outing with six punchouts in just 2 1/3 innings. He also extended his Checketts-era UCSB record to 34 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
"We were hoping to save Nelly for a closer game, but he came in and did what he always does – stopped the other team's momentum," said Checketts.
Kentucky starter Zack Brown was tagged with the loss after allowing six runs with three walks in 4 1/3 innings.
UCSB will play the winner of tonight's San Diego State-Bryant matchup tomorrow at Tony Gwynn Field. If SDSU wins, the Gauchos will play at 6:00 p.m., and if Bryant wins, they will play at 1:00 p.m.