Gauchos Rally, But Fall Short in 8-7 Loss to Penn State

Jason Willow (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Jason Willow (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Despite trailing by as many as six, the UC Santa Barbara baseball team got the game-tying and go-ahead runs on base multiple times in the late innings of Monday's series finale with Penn State, but the Gauchos were ultimately unable to capitalize against right-hander Mason Mellott, who held UCSB scoreless for the final 2 2/3 innings of an 8-7 win for the Nittany Lions. 

The narrow victory salvaged the series for Penn State (4-5), who fell 10-4 on Saturday and mustered just one hit in a 4-0 loss on Sunday. The Gauchos dropped to 4-7 with the loss, their first at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium this season.

Trailing 7-2 in the bottom of the seventh, UCSB made one big charge and came within inches of tying the game or even going ahead. 

Tevin Mitchell led off that frame by jumping on a Jake Pilewicz offering and pulling it down the left field line for a two-bagger. Sophomore catcher Eric Yang followed it up with a line drive single through the right side to put the Gauchos in business. A sac fly from junior left fielder/catcher Thomas Rowan and a solid RBI single from sophomore right fielder Armani Smith cashed in those two runs and cut the deficit to three, and the Gauchos weren't yet done.

Following Smith's base hit, PSU summoned right-hander Eric Mock into the game, but that move backfired as the two batters to face him produced run-scoring hits. The latter of the two, freshman third baseman Jason Willow, came within inches of tying the game as his high fly ball to left-center looked like it had a chance to go out but instead bounced off the base of the wall for a two-run double, making it 7-6 with the game-tying run on second base and one away. 

The Nittany Lions' next bullpen gambit worked out quite well, as Mellott came in and stranded Willow by inducing back-to-back groundouts. 

Mellott played with fire in the next inning, allowing a pair of runners into scoring position on a pair of singles and a sac bunt, but he bounced back in a big way, keeping the runners at second third by getting Smith to wave at a slider off the plate for a strikeout and then ending the inning with a fielder's choice groundout from Willow. Mellott closed out the ninth to pick up his second save of the year. 

"We crawled all the way back and gave ourselves a chance, but we couldn't land that final blow," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "I was proud of the offensive guys who hung in there and kept chipping away. We were one swing away from that game having a different ending."

PSU did the majority of their damage in a five-run fifth, as Ryan Sloninger and Parker Henderson each chipped in two-run base hits to right field. The Nittany Lions banged four hits that inning and were helped along by three walks. Conlin Hughes provided what turned out to be a crucial insurance run in the seventh by rolling an RBI triple off the right-center field fence. 

Sophomore right-hander Chris Lincoln was a bright spot on the mound for the Gauchos, allowing just two singles over 2 2/3 shutout innings. The Moreno Valley, Calif. native struck out three batters and helped himself out of the only jam he got in, catching a line drive off the bat of Mason Nadeau and doubling off the runner at first to escape a two-on, one-out situation in the top of the ninth. 

Sophomore left-hander Ben Brecht had an up-and-down start for UCSB, striking out a career-high nine but uncharacteristically struggling with his command. Though he eventually allowed four earned runs in his 4 1/3 innings of work, the Gauchos trailed 2-1 when he departed the game in the top of the fifth. 

Five separate Gauchos had multiple hits in the contest, a season-high, led by Willow's 2-5 day. The Victoria, B.C. native and Orioles draftee also drove in a career-high four runs. 

UCSB does not have a midweek contest this week, and is next in action on Friday as it hosts Texas State at 2:00 p.m. in the first tilt of a three-game set. The Gauchos are in the midst of a stretch that sees them play 21 of 22 games at home.