SAN DIEGO – The UC Santa Barbara baseball team secured a place in the championship game of the prestigious Tony Gwynn Classic tournament after dismantling Bryant 16-2 on Saturday afternoon.
Aided by a less-than-sharp Bulldogs pitching staff that issued eight walks and hit an additional six batters, the Gauchos combined for 14 hits in the contest to allow freshman right-hander Noah Davis, who pitched ably in a five inning start, to earn his first collegiate victory.
UCSB's top offensive performer was catcher Dempsey Grover, who went 3-3, reached base five times, and drove in three runs. He was just one of several Gauchos to have standout days with the bat, joining JJ Muno (2-3), Ryan Clark (2-4) and Austin Bush (1-3, three RBIs).
"When pitchers struggle to throw strikes like they did today, you have to stay prepared for when they do find the zone, and I thought we did a good job of that today," said Grover.
UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts agreed with his sophomore backstop.
"We had a lot of professional at-bats today, even when we were up big. Our team had quality at-bats all day, I was impressed."
Though the game ended up a blowout thanks to a nine-run UCSB seventh inning, it was relatively close early on. The contest could have taken on an entirely different tenor if it wasn't for a pair of highlight reel plays from senior third baseman Ryan Clark.
With a run in already and the bases loaded in the top of the third, Clark snuffed out a potential rally by diving to his left into the 5-6 hole to snag a one-hop liner off the bat of Buck McCarthy and start an inning ending 5-4-3 double play. He then led off the next inning with a solo shot over the left field fence, his first of the year. Instead of trailing by two or three runs, the Gauchos found themselves tied at 1-1.
"It was definitely a huge turn of events," said Clark. "I'd like to think it got the ball rolling for us. Our dugout feeds off those big plays."
After the big fly, UCSB engineered three more runs to go up 4-1. Sophomore first baseman Kyle Plantier provided the big hit in that rally, stinging a line drive off the glove of Bryant third baseman Zach Wood for an RBI double.
Things went from bad to worse for Bryant in the seventh, as UCSB was able to plate four runs without even getting a hit following five walks and two hit batsmen. Grover brought in three more runs with a bases loaded triple before Devon Gradford and Clark capped the rally with run-scoring singles.
In the second start of his young career, Davis allowed just two earned runs and struck out four over five full innings. Chris Clements and Kevin Chandler teamed up to toss four innings of scoreless relief, preserving Davis's first ever "W."
"Hopefully the first of many," said Davis.
UCSB will compete for the tournament title tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. against the winner of tonight's Tulane-San Diego matchup. The Gauchos have outscored their opponents 27-6 so far in the tourney.