SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Over his three year career, UC Santa Barbara's Austin Bush has built a reputation for hitting mammoth home runs in clutch situations.
In Saturday's non-conference action against San Diego State, Bush instead came through big time with a solid line drive single in the eighth inning to score Colton Burns, nullifying a late SDSU comeback as the Gauchos held off the visitors for a 6-5 win at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
UCSB (17-19) built a 5-0 lead through six innings, but watched that advantage evaporate in the seventh as the Aztecs (28-12) put together a five-run rally, highlighted by a three-run homer from Danny Sheehan.
Undeterred, the Gauchos got right back to work in the bottom half of the inning, manufacturing the go-ahead and final run of the game.
Burns opened that decisive inning with an infield single, chopping one into the 3-4 hole and just beating starting pitcher Dominic Purpura to the bag. Billy Fredrick followed with a perfect sac bunt, moving the speedy Burns into scoring position.
Facing lefty reliever Jacob Erickson, who tossed a scoreless inning and earned the win in SDSU's Friday victory, Bush went with an outside pitch and drove a one-hopper to the right of Sheehan, the shortstop. Sheehan laid out but couldn't come up with the ball, allowing Burns to score easily.
Tasked with a two-inning save for the second time this week, UCSB freshman righty Shea Barry got the job done, allowing just a pair of singles. Things got a little dicey in the eighth when Barry walked Andrew Martinez to put a second runner on base with two outs, but Burns came up with a nice catch on a Julio Escobedo liner to end the threat.
"I was happy about the response from the guys," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "Burns had a hustle play there [in the seventh] beating that ball out to lead off the inning, and then Bush has a good at-bat there with two strikes to drive him in. Shea showed some poise and went after them out there. The five runs could have been a knockout blow, so it was nice to see the guys respond the right way."
UCSB starter Kyle Nelson was dominant over the first six innings of the game, allowing just two singles over that span. He hardly had to break a sweat in the first half of the game, pitching out of a bases loaded jam – exacerbated by an error and a walk – in the second but otherwise not allowing a runner into scoring position.
The Gaucho southpaw hit a wall in the seventh however, giving up five hits including Sheehan's game-tying blast. He was justly rewarded with his fifth victory of the season in eight decisions after Bush lined his go-ahead knock while Nelson was still the pitcher of record.
Purpura, SDSU's tough lefty who entered the game with a 6-0 record, mostly kept the Gauchos off balance but made some key mistakes during his outing.
UCSB catcher Dempsey Grover opened the scoring in the second inning when he stuck with a low fastball and drove it the opposite way for a solo home run. The Gauchos later went on to string together two-run rallies in the fourth and sixth.
UCSB received some help from the elements in the former rally, as with a man on second Tommy Jew hit a high fly ball that straddled the right field foul line. Having been shaded towards center, right fielder David Hensley had to make a long run towards the line, then fought with the sun before the ball dropped a few feet behind him for an RBI triple.
Purpura ended up taking the loss, giving him his first defeat of the year.
UCSB and SDSU will play a 1:00 p.m. rubber match tomorrow at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Righty Chris Clements (1-4, 6.31 ERA) is slated to start for the Gauchos, while the Aztecs have yet to name a starter. UCSBGauchos.com will carry live video and audio broadcasts of the contest.