As UC Santa Barbara’s Saturday starter, righty Noah Davis is used to pitching deep into games and playing a key part in the team’s fortunes.
Relegated to the bullpen this weekend due to a foot injury, No. 16 UCSB’s stud freshman needed just eight pitches to make a similarly profound effect in Sunday’s series finale, rolling up a key double play in the top of the ninth to preserve a 4-4 tie before the Gauchos scratched across a run in the bottom half of the frame to earn a 5-4 walk-off win that finished a sweep of the Rainbow Warriors (18-23, 7-8).
The victory, UCSB’s third walk-off of the season, improved the team’s record to 29-10-1, 8-4 and kept them within a game of first place Cal State Fullerton for first place in the Big West standings. The Gauchos also won their 16th straight game at home while moving to 20-1 on the year at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, both program all-time bests.
Davis’ big 6-4-3 double play capped off a brilliant collective effort from the UCSB bullpen, which combined to throw four shutout innings.
Senior lefty Justin Kelly, who made his first appearance since recovering from an injury suffered on Feb. 20, started it off with a perfect 1-2-3 sixth, and then freshman righty Kevin Chandler kept it going with two impressive relief innings before making way for Davis with one out in the ninth.
“Yesterday’s [6-3 win] was a battle as well, and the guys hung in there to the end today,” said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. “It was a little bit sloppy on both sides all weekend, but we competed. Chandler came up huge in a big spot and then Davis came in and gave us exactly the ground ball we needed.”
Entering the game with runners on the corners and one out, Davis looked a bit shaky at first, bouncing his first pitch to the backstop to advance both runners into scoring position. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, as UCSB intentionally walked cleanup hitter Kekai Rios to bring up Marcus Doi, who was more of groundball hitter.
Doi went on to roll over on a 2-1 offering from Davis, starting a tailor-made 6-4-3 twin killing that shifted all the momentum over to the Gauchos.
Great baserunning and a bold coaching decision led to UCSB’s game-winning run in the ninth, which was scored without a hit. Senior third baseman Ryan Clark opened the inning by working a five-pitch walk, then moved into scoring position by stealing second base with Andrew Calica at the plate. UCSB’s center fielder proceeded to bunt Clark over to third, putting the walk-off run 90 feet from home.
Hawaii predictably moved their infield in, but that didn’t matter when UCSB right fielder Michael McAdoo bounced a one-hopper to shortstop, as Clark broke on contact and was able to slide in safely when UH shortstop Jacob Sheldon-Collin’s high throw to home wasn’t handled by Rios, the catcher.
It was the first time UCSB had led since the second inning, as the Rainbow Warriors strung together a pair of rallies in the middle innings to go ahead 4-2.
The Gauchos snuffed out that deficit with a two-run sixth – runs came in on a Clay Fisher sac fly and JJ Muno single – to get a no-decision for Kyle Nelson, who made his first collegiate start on Sunday.
Entering the contest with a top-10 ERA and top-10 WHIP in the country, Nelson kept UCSB in the game after allowing four earned over five innings.
Muno and first baseman Austin Bush provided most of UCSB’s offensive firepower in the finale. Besides his sixth inning RBI single, Muno put the Gauchos ahead in the second with a run-scoring triple into the right-center field gap. Bush went 3-3 with a trio of singles and a scored a run.
UCSB is now 10-1 this season in one-run games and has swept all five weekend series on its home turf.
The Gauchos will look to make it 17 straight on Tuesday as they host Pepperdine at 3:00 p.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. James Carter, who had a spotless ERA and five saves before undergoing Tommy John Surgery as UCSB’s closer a year ago, will make his season debut in that contest.