NASHVILLE – UC Santa Barbara clinched its first ever berth into the Super Regionals after routing four-seed Xavier 14-5 in Monday's Nashville Regional title game. The Gauchos, who went an undefeated 3-0 this weekend at Vanderbilt, are slated to face off against Louisville (50-12) in a best-of-three series next weekend with a trip to Omaha and the College World Series at stake.
UCSB, which beat Xavier for the second time in as many days, also won its 40th game of the season. The Gauchos opened the Nashville Regional with a dramatic 14-inning 3-2 win over Washington on Friday capped off by an Austin Bush home run.
This is the first time ever that UCSB has won a regional. In addition, the Gauchos' three wins in this postseason are as many as they've had in their past seven trips to the regionals combined.
"This is definitely a highlight in my coaching career," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "They're playing up to their potential and playing as a team. They've turned themselves into a good baseball team that has achieved. It's been a fantastic weekend, we made the big plays and made the big pitches and got the big hits, so I'm really happy for them."
Bush, who was named Tournament MVP, was one of four Gauchos to make the 2016 Nashville Regional All-Tournament Team, which also included Clay Fisher (7-15, five XBH, seven RBIs), Andrew Calica (6-13, four runs), and Justin Kelly (4.0 shutout IP, 10 K, one win, one save).
In the last showdown with the Musketeers (32-30), UCSB (40-18-1) jumped out to a 5-0 lead and then had to hold on for dear life in a tense, 5-4 victory.
The script was flipped a bit in Monday's title game, as XU jumped out for two runs in the first off UCSB starter Joe Record.
His counterpart, Greg Jacknewitz, dominated the Gauchos his first time through the lineup, going nine-up, nine-down over the first three innings.
It turned out, however, that UCSB's offensive struggles in the early innings were not in vain, as the lineup made adjustments and absolutely blistered the southpaw their next time through, starting with a nine-run fourth inning that more or less decided the game.
Jacknewitz shot himself in the foot to start the rally, walking leadoff man Andrew Calica before the next two batters reached on errors, including one on the pitcher himself. Then the MVP, Bush, teed off on a first pitch offering for a no-doubt home run to right field, his third big fly of the regional.
His replacement Damien Richard fared little better, allowing RBI singles to Kyle Plantier and Calica before Clay Fisher continued his torrid weekend with a three-run bomb over the high left field fence, the first home run of the sophomore's career.
"Bush and Fisher really came through," said Checketts. "They were unbelievable offensively for the weekend and they carried us, driving in runs, getting on base, hitting homers. It was pretty amazing to watch."
Though Fisher's big fly ended the scoring for the inning, UCSB was far from done with the bats, scoring in four of the five remaining innings in the game.
On the pitching side, Record settled down after a shaky start and kept UCSB on top.
The sophomore right-hander made big pitches throughout his five-plus inning outing, but no wiggle job was more impressive than in the second inning, when he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a harmless pop-up from cleanup hitter Andre Jernigan.
Record also showed flashes of dominance, retiring the side in order in both the third and fifth innings. He ended the day with a line of five hits, three earned runs, six walks, and two strikeouts whie earning the win to improve to 6-5.
He was pulled from the contest after allowing a leadoff walk in the sixth, and from there the UCSB bullpen combined to toss four solid innings of relief.
Kevin Chandler started it off by striking out three in less than two innings pitched, and was solid aside from one mistake, a 2-0 fastball left over the plate to Nate Soria in the seventh, who deposited it into the left field bleachers for a two-run homer. Those were the first, and only, runs allowed by the Gaucho bullpen over the entirety of the regional.
Sophomore lefty Kyle Nelson entered the tilt with two outs in the seventh, and proceeded to strand a pair of runners by fanning Matt Fallon on a backdoor slider. He proceeded to strike out four over two innings before making way for James Carter, making his postseason debut, who retired David Morton to clinch the win.
Stay tuned to UCSBGauchos.com for more information on the Super Regional at Louisville, including game days and times, TV and radio availability, and ticket information.