LOS ANGELES – An old adage in baseball holds that the first at-bat of a new season is representative of how that year's campaign will go.
If that is the case, it looks like UC Santa Barbara has another magical season lined up under head coach Andrew Checketts after last year's historic run to the College World Series.
Junior shortstop Clay Fisher got the Gauchos off to the best possible start in Thursday's Opening Day tilt at Loyola Marymount, leading off the game with a mammoth home run over the left field wall. He then drove in another two runs to power UCSB's offense in a 6-3 win over the Lions.
The blast came on a 1-0 fastball, and cleared LMU's 37-foot Blue Monster – a replica of Fenway Park's Green Monster – in left field. Interestingly, Fisher's only other career home run also had to clear a huge wall, the 35-foot facade at Vanderbilt's Hawkins Field in the 2016 NCAA Regionals.
"Clay getting a swing like that to start the season is pretty special, you don't see that very often," said Checketts. "I think it helped our guys relax. Usually the first time out you're nervous and have some jitters, but I thought we did a good job staying in character and keeping focus."
The Gauchos went on to build a 4-0 lead after 4 1/2 innings, and thanks to a strong start from sophomore ace Noah Davis that advantage was able to hold up.
Davis didn't have his best stuff, but was ahead in the count often and came up with big pitches when he needed them, resulting in only one earned run against over six full innings. He ultimately was rewarded with the win for his effort.
He was at his best after allowing a leadoff single in the second, recovering to send down nine consecutive batters. He was also impressive in the sixth, pitching out of a two-on jam by striking out five-hitter Trevin Esquerra with a full-count challenge fastball.
"Noah was in command with his fastball today, and he did a really good job of throwing strikes which allowed us to have strong first steps defensively."
After Davis departed, the bullpen bent but didn't break, giving up a pair of runs in the seventh following back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning.
Junior right-hander Alex Garcia stemmed LMU's momentum with an encouraging outing, throwing a scoreless ninth inning after falling behind 2-0 to the leadoff hitter to earn the save.
UCSB had a trio of newcomers in the starting lineup on Thursday, and each made an impact. Freshman right fielder Landon Silver had two base hits and a sac bunt, junior left fielder Colton Burns yanked a hanging two-strike pitch over the right field wall to make it 2-0 in the fourth inning, and junior second baseman Kenny Corey laced a double into left field in the ninth, leading to an important insurance run.
Third baseman Brandon Shearer was the top offensive performer for LMU with an RBI double. Starter Blake Redman was mostly solid after Fisher's homer, but was stuck with the loss after allowing four runs, three earned, in six innings.
Starting catcher Dempsey Grover was removed from the game before the second inning after experiencing discomfort in his side. He is unlikely to play the rest of the weekend, but his injury is not believed to be serious.
Since Thursday's game was the first on the NCAA schedule, Fisher notched the first at-bat, hit, and home run of the 2017 college baseball season nation-wide while UCSB earned the first win.
The Gauchos and Lions will not play on Friday due to forecasted storms, but will resume their series on Saturday at Page Field, with first pitch scheduled for 6:00 p.m.