SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Redshirt freshman shortstop Andrew Martinez drove in pinch-runner McClain O'Connor in the bottom of the ninth inning on Saturday to deliver a thrilling 4-3 victory for UC Santa Barbara and clinch its series against visiting San Jose State.
The win for UCSB (8-11-1) capped off a comeback from a late 3-1 deficit to SJSU (9-12), as the Gauchos scored a pair in the eighth to tie it before ending it with Martinez's base hit in the ninth, which came with UCSB down to its last strike.
Freshman second baseman Marcos Castanon made the rally possible with a one-out double into the left-field corner, ripping an 0-2 pitch just inside the left foul line to put the Gauchos in business. A four-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Eric Yang and a strikeout of Michael McAdoo made it a do or die situation for Martinez, who entered the game hitting .500 with runners in scoring position. Continuing his hot hitting – he had three hits in Friday's series opener and another two on Saturday – Martinez toughed out a long at-bat, driving the seventh pitch he saw solidly into left to easily bring in O'Connor, who was running on the 3-2, two-out pitch.
"We had some big at-bats earlier and could have scored earlier were it not for some outstanding defensive plays on their part, but we stuck it out and got rewarded in the end," said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. "Martinez had a nice two-strike approach in that at-bat, and was quick to the ball. He showed why he's been our best statistical hitter with runners in scoring position."
UCSB took advantage of a number of SJSU defensive mishaps in the eighth to knot it up. Back-to-back singles from Tommy Jew and Clay Fisher gave the Gauchos runners on the corners with one out to start it off. Trying to put both runners in scoring position, Fisher tried to advance to second on a delayed steal, but ended up stranded halfway there as SJSU pitcher Fineas Del-Bonta Smith engaged him in a rundown.
Instead of tagging out Fisher and getting the sure third out of the inning, SJSU second baseman Santiago Cantu instead tried to gun down Jew at the plate, but his throw was way late, allowing a run to come in and put Fisher at second. That last fact proved crucial, as Del Bonta-Smith and his catcher had communication problems leading to a pair of balls reaching the backstop in the ensuing at-bats and allowing Fisher to come in for the game-tying run.
SJSU looked like it would even the series after holding the Gauchos off the board despite a bases-loaded situation in the sixth and then capitalizing on a similar opportunity of their own to grab the lead in the seventh.
The Spartans mounted the go-ahead rally with two outs and nobody on, getting into business on a solid single to left from Brett Bautista and a walk to three-hitter Chris Williams. David Campbell then broke through for SJSU, beating the shift by shooting the first pitch he saw from sophomore southpaw Ben Brecht between the third base bag and UCSB third baseman Jason Willow, who was shaded away from the line for the left-hitting Campbell.
First baseman Ruben Ibarra, who entered the game with one hit in 15 at-bats and was a late addition to the lineup after Shane Timmons was scratched for medical reasons, then provided a key insurance run with a run-scoring single through the left side as part of a two-hit day.
Those two clutch base hits were unable to be replicated by UCSB, who stranded three runners in the bottom of the sixth. Right-hander Justin Watland got those two crucial outs for SJSU, entering the game after UCSB was able to load the bases on two walks and a check-swing single into right by Jew, all against Spartans starter Andrew Mitchel.
Throwing change-ups almost exclusively, Watland got the second out of an inning by getting Armani Smith to wave at a pitch in the dirt and then ended the threat for goof by getting Jason Willow to bounce out to third.
The contest was a pitcher's duel over the first six innings, with both starting pitchers recording their strongest outings to date in 2018.
Chris Lincoln followed up a four-inning, two-run outing last week, his first start of the year, with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball on Saturday. The Moreno Valley, Calif. native struck out six and ended up throwing 88 pitches, a new career-high. Aided by a pair of nice defensive plays from Martinez, Lincoln stranded a runner at third in the first inning and would allow only an infield single over the final 3 2/3 innings of his outing, leaving the game with two outs and nobody on in the seventh.
Mitchel meanwhile, a left-hander who entered the game with a 7.29 ERA, made one big mistake, leaving a fastball up and over the plate for Sam Cohen in the top of the second, resulting in the third home run of the season for UCSB's junior left fielder. Otherwise, the southpaw limited the Gauchos to just four hits in his 5 1/3 innings of work.
The Gauchos and Spartans conclude their series tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Stevie Ledesma, who threw six shutout innings last Sunday in his first start of 2018, will toe the rubber for UCSB opposite SJSU right-hander Nick Morales (1-3, 7.77).