Gauchos Lose Extra Innings Heartbreaker in Riverside, 8-7

Kevin Chandler (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Kevin Chandler (photo by Eric Isaacs)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – In the first of a three-game Big West series, UC Riverside claimed a walk-off, 11-inning 8-7 win over UC Santa Barbara in Friday night's ESPN3-televised contest at the Riverside Sports Complex.

The loss came in absolutely heartbreaking fashion for the Gauchos (18-21, 4-6 Big West), who rallied from a 7-5 deficit to send it to extras. Steven Ledesma was on the hill for UCSB in the 11th in his fourth frame of action, and he nearly got the Gauchos out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam by inducing a high-pop up in front of home plate from UCR's Connor Cannon, but the ball popped out of Ledesma's glove allowing the Highlanders (14-22, 3-10) to bring in the winning run. 

The end result belied what was a great collective effort from Ledesma and Kevin Chandler out of the Gaucho bullpen, as the two righties combined to hold UCR to just one earned run over 8 1/3 innings. 

Inheriting a 6-5 deficit, Chandler came on in the third and kept the Highlanders at bay for 4 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit in his outing while striking out a career-high six. Though his entire outing was impressive, his best work came when he first entered. Inheriting runners on the corners with one out, he pitched UCSB out of a jam by getting back-to-back batters to fan on sliders off the plate. 

Chandler passed the baton to Ledesma with two outs in the seventh, and he went on to retire the first five batters he faced and didn't allow a hit until the 10th inning. He wiggled out of a two-on jam in that inning as well, striking out Cody Sporrer before getting Branden Williams to roll out to shortstop JJ Muno to end the frame. 

UCSB's bats were at their best early in the game, producing five runs over the first three innings against UCR starter Ryan Lillie. 

Senior left fielder Billy Fredrick started it out in the first by putting a charge into a 3-1 fastball and sending it over the right field fence for his first career home run. 

The Gauchos went to score a pair in each of the next two innings. In the second, Muno cashed in Kenny Corey and Tommy Jew – who both reached on hard-struck balls – with a bloop single inside the left field line. Austin Bush clubbed his Big West-leading 10th homer of the year in the next frame to put UCSB up 5-3.

Battling flu symptoms, UCSB starter Kyle Nelson was sharp in the first but was hit hard soon after, as Sporrer hit a three-run game-tying home run in the the second before UCR went ahead with a three-run, three-hit rally in the third. 

The Gauchos and Highlanders will battle on ESPN3 once again tomorrow night, with first pitch set for 6:00 p.m.