UCSB Bounces Back With 8-7 Walk-Off Win in UCI Rubber Match

Armani Smith (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Armani Smith (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Less than 24 hours after UC Irvine rallied late to pull out a series-evening win, UC Santa Barbara answered back with a come-from-behind victory of its own, recovering from a four-run deficit to pull out an 8-7 walk-off win on Armani Smith's ninth inning sac fly in Saturday's rubber match at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. 

Smith's game-winner capped a late comeback that saw UCSB (15-18, 4-5 Big West) score five runs in the final two innings. It was the first time this season that the Gauchos claimed a win when trailing after seven innings. 

In a reversal of Friday's result, UC Irvine (13-19, 2-4) went up 7-3 after putting up six runs in the seventh inning, but the Anteater bullpen couldn't stem the Gauchos' offensive momentum. 

"It's easy to put your tail between your legs after a big inning like UCI had, but the guys did a good job of still thinking they had a chance," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "The offense did a good job of wearing down pitchers and the quality of the at-bats at the end of the game was off the charts."

Sophomore DH Sam Cohen played a huge role in the comeback, homering to lead off the eighth inning. That roundtripper sparked the Gaucho dugout, which went on to string together three more singles and two more runs, both coming in on a Dempsey Grover base hit to left-center, before the inning was out.

Heading into the ninth down by just a run, Cohen once again sparked a rally with a one-out single up the middle. He was lifted for pinch-runner Tevin Mitchell, a move that paid off immediately as the speedster was able to score from first on a double down the left field line from junior third baseman Kenny Corey

UCI closer Calvin Faucher, who was in search of his 10th save of the season, made a fatal mistake on a 3-2 pitch to JJ Muno, bouncing it and sending it to the backstop which allowed Corey to move to third with still just one out. 

That free base came up big during the next at-bat, as Smith was able to make hard contact and send a fly ball to deep center field that allowed Corey to come in easily. 

The comeback resulted in the first win of UCSB junior right-hander Steven Ledesma's Division I career, with the SBCC transfer bouncing back nicely on Friday after allowing two runs in 2/3 of an inning yesterday. 

Ledesma entered the game with a runner on and nobody out in the ninth, and UCI was ultimately able to load the bases and threaten to expand its one-run lead. However, Ledesma kept the scoreline where it was and set up the bottom of the ninth theatrics by spinning in a front-door breaking ball for a called third strike on pinch-hitter Alex Guenette. 

The game was cruising along in the early innings, with UCSB starter Chris Clements limiting the Anteaters to just three hits and no runs over the first five innings. 

UCI began to get to Clements in the sixth inning, loading the bases on three straight singles to open the frame. UCSB's sophomore right-hander did a nice job of limiting the damage in that inning, rolling up a double play ball and striking out Cole Krueter to let just one run across. 

He wasn't so fortunate in the seventh, as the Anteaters once again loaded the bases on three consecutive singles and then strung together four more hits to push in six runs. The biggest blow of that rally was a bases-loaded triple into the left field corner by shortstop Mikey Duarte. 

Clements ended the day with seven earned runs against over 6 1/3 frames, striking out five and walking one. 

Tommy Jew went 3-3 and reached base four times for the Gauchos on Saturday. Corey scored a team-high three runs. 

This upcoming week, UCSB will play four non-conference contests starting at Pepperdine on Tuesday with a 3:00 p.m. first start. The Gauchos host San Diego State for a three-game series starting on Friday.