SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara junior right-hander Shane Bieber allowed just four hits and struck out seven in his second consecutive complete game effort to lead the thirteenth-ranked Gauchos to an exciting 1-0 win over Cal State Northridge in Friday's gusty Big West contest at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
A week after picking up the win in UCSB's (22-7-1, 3-1 Big West) series opener at the College of Charleston, Bieber was even more masterful against the Matadors (22-11, 1-6), retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced while pitching out of jams in the seventh and ninth innings for the second shutout of his collegiate career.
Moving to 7-1 on the season, Bieber is for the moment tied for the NCAA lead in wins and just one victory away from tying his career-high of eight, set last season.
"Bieber was fantastic today," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "He was in the strike zone all day and stayed ahead in the count. It's hard to hit against a guy who's doing that, especially with the windy conditions today."
A single run in the bottom of the first off CSUN starter Angel Rodriguez, who was excellent as well in a six-plus inning effort, proved to be enough for Bieber and the Gauchos.
In that decisive first inning, the Gauchos strung together three hard base hits to load the bases before designated hitter Billy Fredrick brought in the lone run with a line drive sacrifice fly to medium center field.
UCSB could have had a lot more that inning, but the windy conditions prevented them from doing so.
After Andrew Calica opened the game with a single over the first baseman's head, catcher Dempsey Grover followed with a solid line drive to center field. What normally may have been a lineout instead got caught by the wind, which was blowing in, and fell in front of CSUN center fielder Justin Toerner, who was just able to retire Calica at second.
In addition, Fredrick's sacrifice fly easily could have gone for extra bases if it wasn't knocked down by the wind.
Meanwhile, Bieber was close to perfect his first two times through the Matadors lineup.
Retiring the first eight batters of the game in succession, UCSB's ace right-hander didn't allow a hit until No. 9 hitter Elias Orona fisted a blooper into shallow right field for a single in the third.
Getting a routine groundout to end that frame, he mowed through the top of CSUN's lineup once again, getting 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth before allowing an infield single to lead off the sixth. Predictably, Bieber fanned Orona and then induced back-to-back ground balls to end the frame unscathed.
Things got a little rocky in the final third of the game, but Bieber did a good job to stay composed and he received a little help from his defense, particularly infielders Ryan Clark, Clay Fisher, and JJ Muno.
CSUN first baseman Branden Berry sat back on a change-up and clubbed it into the left field corner for a double to lead off the seventh, the only hit allowed by Bieber on the day that was well struck. After a sacrifice moved Berry to third, Bieber fielded his position well and snagged a one-hop comebacker for the second out of the inning. He then got pinch hitter Jayson Newman to chase a breaking ball in the dirt for an inning-ending strikeout.
Needing just three outs for the win, things got dicey for UCSB when Fred Smith's leadoff pop-fly got caught in the wind and fell untouched near the foul line in shallow left for an easy double. But the Gaucho infield turned in three straight outstanding defensive plays to lock down the decision.
First, the third baseman Clark made an excellent play to retire the speedy Yusuke Akitoshi at first on a sac bunt, calling off Bieber and beating the CSUN shortstop at first by a split second. Then with the infield drawn in, the second baseman Muno made a headlong dive to his right to knock down a one-hop line drive off the bat of Berry to get the second out and hold Smith at third.
Finally, Clark once again came up big by diving to his left to knock down a Nolan Bumstead chopper, getting to his feet and retiring the runner at first by a step for the final out.
Though he didn't get a ball in the ninth, Fisher made a number of highlight reel plays earlier in the contest to keep CSUN off the board, most notably a sliding stop up the middle of an Albee Weiss grounder in the fifth.
"The guys played great defense in front of Bieber today," said Checketts. "It's easy to do that when your pitcher is filling up the strike zone and you're expecting the ball like that. Credit to them."
As good as Bieber was, CSUN's pitching staff put together an excellent collective performance as well. After a rough first inning, Rodriguez held the Gauchos to just one hit over the next five frames.
When he faltered again in the seventh and loaded the bases on three straight singles, Samuel Myers came in and got a fielder's choice and an inning ending double play ball to hold UCSB without a run. He and Spencer Viola then combined for a scoreless eighth.
Rodriguez was the hard luck loser for CSUN, moving to 3-3 on the year. He finished the day with a line of one earned run allowed on nine hits and one walk with three strikeouts.
UCSB will go for the series win, which would be five straight over the Matadors, tomorrow behind Noah Davis (3-1, 3.72 ERA). He will be countered by CSUN southpaw Kenny Rosenberg (4-1, 2.68 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. and UCSBgauchos.com will carry a live audio broadcast, which can be heard here.
NOTES – The game last two hours and 15 minutes, tied for UCSB's shortest game this season ... The Gauchos have now won all five series openers against CSUN in the Checketts era ... UCSB is now 8-1 this season in games started by Bieber ... The Gauchos are now 14-1 at home this year ... Bieber threw just 102 pitches in the shutout.