CBB: Irvine pitchers too tough for UCSB

IRVINE – No. 19 UC Santa Barbara on Friday night became just the fourth team this season to score multiple runs off UC Irvine ace Andrew Morales, but they couldn’t muster enough offense to hand him his first career loss, as the Anteaters came out on top 6-2 in the Big West series opener at Anteater Ballpark that was nationally televised on ESPN3.

The Gauchos (26-12-1, 7-9 Big West) scored a pair of runs in the top of the third inning to knot the score after having fallen behind thanks to a two-run second by UCI (30-14, 12-1).

Junior right fielder Cameron Newell opened the third by ripping a fastball through the right side past a diving Connor Spencer. Later in the frame, junior shortstop Peter Maris walked on four pitches before senior left fielder Joey Epperson laid off a close 3-2 slider to draw the base on balls and load the bags. In a two-out, bases loaded situation, cleanup hitter Tyler Kuresa quickly found himself in a 1-2 hole, but the fouled off three straight pitches before stroking a slurve into right center for a two-run single.

Despite threatening in the first and fifth innings with two-on situations, that was all the damage the Gauchos could muster against Morales, who moved to 8-0 on the season after finishing with a line of two earned runs, seven hits, seven strikeouts, and three walks in 7.2 innings of work.

UCSB launched a final salvo in the ninth by loading the bases on a Greg Mahle single and two walks, but UCI closer Sam Moore came in to shut the door and earn his NCAA-leading 20th save of the season.

Morales’s counterpart, UCSB’s Justin Jacome, had a solid outing as well, allowing five earned runs and striking out three in 5.2 innings pitched.

After battling to a 2-2 tie through the first four and a half innings, UCI scored a decisive blow against Jacome in the bottom of the fifth when Spencer slapped a full-count offering just inside the third base foul line and into the left field corner to score a pair of runners.

Kuresa led the way for UCSB offensively with a 2-4 line. Epperson reached three times on the night and Maris’s first inning double was just the sixth extra base hit allowed by Morales this season.

Spencer, Grant Palmer, and John Brontsema – son of former UCSB head coach Bob Brontsema – each had a pair of hits for the Anteaters.