CBB: Fisher’s walk-off single lifts Gauchos over UCI in 11th

Freshman shortstop Clay Fisher laced an RBI single over the third base bag and past the glove of diving UC Irvine third baseman Parker Coss, to score JJ Muno and give eight-ranked UCSB a 3-2 walk-off win over the Anteaters in the 11th inning Saturday affair at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

The base hit handed the Gauchos their 38th win of the season, which sets a new program record for wins against Division I opponents in a single season (previously: 37 wins in 2001).

It was the fourth walk-off victory of the season for UCSB (38-13-1, 14-6 Big West), which leapfrogged UCI (31-20, 13-7) for second place in the Big West standings. The Gauchos still remain a half-game back of first-place Cal State Fullerton.

Though being out-produced in the hit column 15-7, it was UCSB who executed in clutch situations.

One of those pivotal plays occurred in the 11th. Muno, Fisher’s freshman colleague in the middle infield, opened that frame by ripping a top-spin line drive into right field for a single off UCI All-American closer Sam Moore, who set the NCAA record for saves last season with 23.

With everyone in attendance at the ballpark aware of what he was going to do, senior right fielder Luke Swenson still was able to put an absolutely perfect sacrifice bunt down the first base line, advancing Muno into scoring position without even the prospect of a throw into second base.

After an intentional walk to Andrew Calica, Fisher dashed the Anteaters’ hopes of an unscathed inning by jumping on a first-pitch fastball from Moore, ripping it just inside the third base line. The shot would have been an easy double had Muno not come around to score.

Swenson helped the Gauchos capitalize on another scoring opportunity in the eighth, as he sent a grounder up the middle that caromed off the glove of diving UCI shortstop Mikey Duarte for a game-tying RBI single off Moore.

Conversely, the Anteaters were only able to score in one of their 11 turns at bat despite putting at least one runner on in every single inning.

They had chances to get a run across late in the game with the score tied, as they put the leadoff runner on in the ninth, 10th, and 11th innings.

In the former two frames, they were unable to come up with a big hit after sacrificing the leadoff runner to second base. In the final inning, a busted hit-and-run – and an on-the-money throw from catcher Dempsey Grover – resulted in an easy out for the Gauchos and helped set up Fisher’s heroics in the bottom half of the frame.

The Anteaters scored their sole two runs in the fourth on a John Brontsema sac fly and a Coss RBI single, putting them up 2-1 at the time.

Those were the only two runs surrendered by UCSB starter Justin Jacome, who battled through a start in which he was often in the stretch to provide the Gauchos with a quality start.

Despite allowing 12 of UCI’s 15 hits in his 7 2/3 inning outing, the junior southpaw came up big when it counted, striking out six, picking off his league-leading seventh runner to end the third inning, and rolling up a rally-killing double play ball in the fifth.

At the end of the day, UC Irvine ended up batting 1-9 (.111) with runners in scoring position. By way of comparison, the Gauchos turned in two hits in such situations despite having three less at bats (2-6, .333).

Freshman right-hander Chris Clements (3-0) was rewarded with a win after holding the Anteaters off the board in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Junior first baseman Robby Nesovic was the only Gaucho on the day to record multiple hits, going 2-3 and driving in the Gauchos’ first run of the day with a first-inning sac fly, his Big West-leading eighth of the campaign.

UCI starter Matt Esparza joined Jacome in the no-decision club with what can only be described as an interesting outing. He was ultimately effective, allowing just one run and three hits, but was very erratic at times, issuing five walks before making way for the bullpen in the seventh inning.

The Gauchos will go for their first sweep of UC Irvine since the 1990 season Sunday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 1p.m. UCSB’s six seniors – Peter Maris, Swenson, Woody Woodward, Cameron Newell, Scott Quinlan, and Campbell Wear – will all be honored in a pregame ceremony starting at 12:45.