SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Designated hitter Austin Bush capped off an epic nine-pitch at-bat by launching a three-run walk-off home run to right field in the bottom of the ninth inning to deliver a 5-3 victory for No. 21 UC Santa Barbara against UConn on Friday afternoon at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
Bush narrowly missed ending the game on two occassions earlier in the at-bat, hooking a pair of hanging sliders from UConn (9-7) right-handed reliever Randy Polonia just wide of the right field foul pole. In the ninth and final pitch of the showdown, Polonia went back to the slider and Bush punished him for it, sending a mammoth shot into the trees above the right field fence.
"I just battled the whole at-bat and got another pitch to hit," said Bush. "I kept the last one fair this time, it was cool."
The Turlock, Calif. native is no stranger to clutch home runs, as he blasted a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the ninth late in the 2015 season against Cal State Bakersfield that led to a key victory in the Gauchos' run to the NCAA Regionals.
UCSB (13-3) has now won four straight contests, two of the last three coming in walk-off fashion and the last three featuring late comebacks.
Trailing 3-2 heading into the last of the ninth, junior center fielder Andrew Calica kicked off the UCSB rally by shooting a line drive down the left field line for a leadoff double.
The Huskies brought in Polonia at that point, but the freshman made a key mistake against the first batter he faced, allowing the Gauchos to get the go-ahead run on base after he unsuccesfully tried to retire Calica at third as he advanced on a sac bunt from catcher Dempsey Grover.
Polonia recovered to punch out pinch hitter Josh Adams, but Bush provided the fatal blow during the next AB.
It was the second go-ahead hit of the day for UCSB's DH, as he bounced a single up the middle in the seventh to put the Gauchos ahead 2-1.
The walk-off made a winner out of sophomore lefty Kyle Nelson, who improved to 4-0 on the year. Unfortunately, his NCAA-leading streak of not allowing an earned run came to a close at 49 innings after he surrendered a solo home run to UConn DH Tyler Gnesda in the top half of the ninth.
"It was a crazy game with Nelly's streak ending and then Bush hitting the walk-off," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "It was really cool to be a part of that streak. For a reliever to come in and be that good every single time is extremely impressive."
UCSB starter Shane Bieber had another solid outing, allowing one earned run on four hits while striking out four over six full innings. However, he was lifted from the game early for precautionary reasons after getting hit in the back of the head with a line drive in the fifth inning.
The Gauchos and Huskies will resume their series tomorrow afternoon with freshman right-hander Noah Davis (1-0, 2.66 ERA) taking the ball for UCSB opposite UConn southpaw Tim Cate (0-0, 0.00). First pitch is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.