No. 23 Gauchos Top Tulane 7-4 in Home Opener

JJ Muno (photo by Eric Isaacs)
JJ Muno (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – After a tough first week on the road, No. 23 UC Santa Barbara looked happy to return to Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in Friday's home opener, notching 10 hits as part of a solid offensive effort in a 7-4 win over visiting Tulane. 

A trio of UCSB (2-3) starters recorded multiple hits for the day, headlined by junior third baseman Kenny Corey's 3-3 day. Junior second baseman JJ Muno (2-4, two runs) and junior left fielder Colton Burns (2-3, two walks) also had strong days with the bat. Burns, arguably UCSB's top hitter so far this season, had reached base in eight consecutive at-bats before striking out in the seventh inning. 

The Gauchos did most of their offensive work in the third and fourth innings, putting up a pair of crooked numbers to go ahead 7-0.

Muno started the first rally with a leadoff single through the right side, his first hit of the season. Corey followed with an inside-out single into left-center, and Burns worked a walk a few batters later to load the bases, setting up a bloop RBI single for Billy Fredrick and a two-run base hit for catcher Sam Cohen.

Like in the previous inning, Muno started the rally in the fourth with a leadoff bunt single down the first base line, scoring moments later when Corey laced a two-bagger into the left-center gap.

The Gauchos continued to put on the offensive pressure throughout the inning, bringing across another run on a hard-hit ball from Landon Silver that went under the glove of Green Wave third baseman Hunter Hope. Tulane starter Corey Merrill lost his feel for the strike zone later in the inning, walking in a pair of runs. 

The Green Wave, who fell to 1-4 with the loss, began to chip away at the big deficit with a two-run fifth, then made the Gauchos sweat with run-producing rallies in both the eighth and ninth innings. 

Second baseman Jake Willsey's ninth-inning home run brought his team within three, and forced Checketts into using closer Alex Garcia to end it. The junior righty responded by rolling up a comebacker from cleanup hitter Jeremy Montalbano for the third out, earning his second save of the year. 

Freshman lefty AJ Woodall impressed the at-bat prior with a backwards-K against pinch-hitter Grant Brown.

UCSB starter Noah Davis shook off some early-innings control issues to earn the win for the Gauchos, moving his record to 2-0 on the year. The blue-and-gold have now won five consecutive games in which Davis has started, including the team's College World Series win over Miami and Super Regional win over Louisvillle.

"He got into some jams and faced some scary hitters, but he made good pitches and was able to wiggle out of it," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "He was able to settle in and command it a little bit better after those first couple innings, and he had his slider show up today which was a difference-maker."

The Hungtington Beach Native had trouble finding the zone early, walking a pair and hitting another in the first two innings. However, he battled back both times and was able to snuff out potential rallies. He did his best Houdini Act in the first, bookending an infield fly with a pair of swinging strikeouts to escape a two-on, nobody out jam.

Davis started getting into a groove in the middle innings, going 1-2-3 in both the third and fourth, but ran into trouble in the fifth when two of the first three batters would double. 

Though he would go on to give up two runs in that inning, he finished his outing strong, striking out the side in the sixth and stranding a runner at second in the seventh. 

Davis would end the day with 10 strikeouts, tying a career high set last year in a 2-1 win against Hartford. 

UCSB and Tulane returns to action on Saturday afternoon with a 2:00 p.m. matchup at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Gaucho junior lefty Kyle Nelson (0-1, 2.25 ERA) is scheduled to oppose righty J.P. France (0-0, 2.57 ERA). UCSBGauchos.com will carry a live audio broadcast of the contest.