CBB: Gauchos top Waves on Calica’s walk-off single

Redshirt freshman center fielder Andrew Calica stroked a bases-loaded, two-out line drive single through the left side of the infield to score Scott Quinlan in the bottom of the ninth inning, breaking a 1-1 deadlock and giving No. 20 UC Santa Barbara a 2-1 win over Pepperdine on Tuesday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

It was the first walk-off win of the season for the Gauchos.

Calica’s base hit ended a pitcher’s duel as both pitching staffs overpowered two of the top offenses on the West Coast.

UCSB improves to 11-2 while Pepperdine is 12-4.

After pitching a perfect eighth inning, Waves reliever Chandler Blanchard appeared to be on his way to another strong frame when he struck out UCSB first baseman Tyler Kuresa to start the ninth. However, a Quinlan walk gave way to a fortuitous turn of events for UCSB. The next batter, junior Peter Maris, chopped a grounder to a charging Manny Jefferson, Pepperdine’s shortstop, but the ball took a bad hop off the edge of the grass and sailed over the infielder’s head, giving the Gauchos runners on the corners with one out.

Blanchard recovered to strike out another UCSB batter before intentionally walking the red-hot Joey Epperson to load the bases for Calica. The left-handed outfielder worked the count to 1-1, then sat back on an outside fastball and sent it past the diving Jefferson for the game-winning hit.

The liner saved Calica from an 0-3 day, extending his hitting streak to six games, and preserving a victory for junior lefty Greg Mahle, who turned in a phenomenal relief effort.

Entering the game in the sixth inning, Mahle pitched 3.2 innings without allowing a run, and his only blemish was a ninth-inning infield single. He received his team-leading third win of the year in four decisions.

The two-on, one-out jam in which he entered the game was the most dangerous Pepperdine threat all day, and he promptly induced a groundout and flyout from the first two batters he faced to keep the score close and set up Calica’s heroics.

The Waves run was scored on a slow chopper to UCSB third baseman Joey Epperson, who possibly could have caught the runner at home but elected to make the safe play at first.

In a 1-1 game, Mahle was helped out by his defense, as Quinlan made a full extension dive in the right-center field gap to snag a Bryan Langlois line drive and prevent extra bases in the eighth.

UCSB scored its first run of the game in the third inning. Freshman catcher Dempsey Grover, filling in for a dinged-up Jackson Morrow, greeted A.J. Puckett by ripping the first pitch out of the Pepperdine reliever’s hand down the left field line for a double. After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Grover came home on an RBI single into left field from Epperson.

Puckett was excellent the rest of the day, as he allowed no hits over his ensuing 4.2 innings of work following the Epperson base hit.

Epperson, who entered the game fourth in the NCAA in batting average and coming off a second consecutive Big West Field Player of the Week nomination, had another great day at the plate, going 2-3 and raising his season batting average to an even .500. He was walked intentionally in his final two at bats of the day and drew multiple throws from Pepperdine’s pitchers every time he was on base. The Lafayette, Calif. native has now hit safely in all 13 of UCSB’s games to start the season.

Pepperdine’s offense was held in check thanks in large in part to an encouraging effort from junior southpaw Andrew Vasquez, who was making his first start of the season. Though he received a no-decision, he allowed just four hits and one run in 5.1 innings on the bump and had typically filthy stuff as he finished with seven punchouts.

The 2012 Freshman All-American showed strong mental resolve in the fourth inning, when a walk and UCSB error put runners on the corners with two outs. He followed that up by getting Waves DH Chris Fornaci to fly out to center and end the threat.

He wasn’t as lucky in the sixth, as back-to-back Pepperdine one-out singles led to his departure and the Waves’ only run of the day.

Pepperdine lefty Matt Maurer, who went 1-1 in a pair of starts against the Gauchos last year, pitched two shutout innings in a predetermined controlled start before making way for the bullpen. Second baseman Hutton Moyer, son of 25-year MLB veteran Jamie Moyer, led the way offensively for the Waves with a 2-4 line. First baseman Brad Anderson drove in the team’s sole run with an RBI groundout.

UCSB and Pepperdine will play the back half of their home-and-home series on Tuesday, May 13.

This weekend, the Gauchos welcome in Wichita State for a three-game set beginning on Friday at 3:00 p.m. The Shockers, 1989 national champs and three-time College World Series runners-up, are 9-4 this season and were picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference in the preseason coaches’ poll.