Gauchos’ nightmare inning enough for No. 1 Irvine

UCSB’s Mike Ford was about three inches away from getting out of Friday’s fifth inning with a 3-1 lead.

Instead, he left it 15 minutes later trailing 11-3.

Such is life when you’re facing the best college baseball team in the country.

Ford seemed to have UC Irvine’s Ben Orloff out on a check swing, but Orloff held up just in time to stay alive. He then walked, and the top-ranked Anteaters would go on to score 10 runs on a monster two-out rally, eventually beating host UCSB 11-7.

After Orloff walked, Ford issued another free pass, then hit a batter to bring home Irvine’s second run. It then went single-single-homer-double-double, and Ford was finally yanked. Greg Davis allowed another run before the nightmare ended.



“The bullpen’s a little thin, and we have a bunch of guys that are out. Mike was pitching well, but he just ran out of gas,” said coach Bob Brontsema. “You just don’t think they’re going to put up 10 runs with two outs. Someone’s gotta hit a ball at somebody at some point, even though the first five guys didn’t even have to hit the ball.”

Instead of the Anteaters hitting the ball, it was more like the ball that hit the Anteaters on the day. Five Irvine batters were hit by pitches, a very consistent problem for UCSB this season. UCSB leads the Big West, having hit 85 batters through Friday.

“We hit way too many people, and none of them are intentional… It’s a lack of command,” said Brontsema.

Offensively the Gauchos did just fine against Irvine’s Daniel Bibona, who is the conference leader in almost every major category for starting pitchers. Bibona gave up six runs on eight hits in 5.1 innings.

“They threw their best guy at us today and we put up seven runs against them, so we’re confident against them. Its just like going up against any other team,” said Matt Valaika, who went 2-for-5 including a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth. Eric Oliver and Gunnar Terhune also had two hits, while Bryce Tafelski drove in a pair of runs.

The defense was also solid for the Gauchos, who didn’t commit an error and got highlight-reel catches in the outfield by Brian Gump and Terhune.

Bibona struck out the Gaucho side in the first and was the benefactor of a spectacular diving grab in the second that caused a double-up, but he gave up three straight singles in the third, with Gump’s first-pitch blooper scoring Ryan Cook to give UCSB an early lead.

Irvine responded on Casey Stevenson’s solo homer in the fourth, but the Gauchos answered right back in the bottom of the inning with Valaika’s blast.

Then came the train-wreck fifth, which dug a hole that was too deep to be climbed out of.

“If you take that inning out of there, I thought we played well and did some good things,” said Brontsema. “We played the No. 1 team in the nation really well for 8 1/2 innings. Unfortunately, you have to play nine.”

The Gauchos (28-22, 10-12) have two more shots at the Anteaters (41-12, 21-1), beginning with Saturday’s 1 p.m. showdown. Santa Barbara High graduate Crosby Slaught will be the Irvine starter in Sunday afternoon’s contest.