CBB: Gauchos ousted from NCAA Regionals in two straight

Gaucho starter Justin Jacome allowed four runs and eight hits in 6.1 innings.

Gaucho starter Justin Jacome allowed four runs and eight hits in 6.1 innings.

LAKE ELSINORE – Top-seeded UCSB battled closely with No. 3 USC for eight innings in Saturday afternoon’s Lake Elsinore Regional elimination game, but the Trojans pulled away with a seven-run ninth to claim a 12-3 win and stay alive in the tournament.

The loss brings about the end of the season for UCSB, which finishes its historic 2015 campaign with a 40-17-1 record.

USC will play another elimination game on Sunday afternoon against San Diego State, a 3-1 loser to Virginia.

“This was a program first, us being here as hosts,” said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. “I’m especially grateful for our administrators, [Director of Athletics] John McCutcheon and [Deputy AD] Tom Hastings and the rest of the crew that put this together and allowed us to play on a neutral site. I’m also grateful for our players, who allowed us to get to this point, to win 40 games and have a lot of success on the field, and obviously it leaves a bad taste in our mouths at the end of the year but I’m proud of our seniors and what they’ve done.”

The Trojans led for the entire contest after senior catcher Garrett Stubbs shot an RBI double down the right-field line in the third inning, but the scoreline remained close until USC tallied a pair of runs in the seventh off UCSB starter Justin Jacome to pull ahead 4-1.

After being held to just one run on five hits by USC starter Kyle Twomey, the Gauchos’ bats finally started to wake up in the eighth.

Senior left fielder and 2015 Big West Co-Field Player of the Year Cameron Newell started the action with a one-out single to center field. He came around to score when junior first baseman Robby Nesovic ripped a double into the left field corner, which also spelled the end of Twomey’s day.

A solid base hit into shallow center field from DH Paddy O’Brien off reliever Brooks Kriske plated Nesovic and cut the Gauchos’ deficit to two at 5-3.

“We had some momentum going in the middle innings,” Checketts said. “It took us a while to get the bats going; we had struggled when we had earlier opportunities and couldn’t string together good at-bats. Finally we were able to put some pressure on them, had some pretty good at-bats. Ultimately, we weren’t able to finish off some of their hitters and they punished us pretty good.”

Despite another two Trojans relievers entering the game in the inning, that was as close as the Gauchos would ever get. After loading the bases, USC head coach Dan Hubbs elected to bring in junior lefty Tyler Gilbert (SBCC), who came up with a big inning-ending strikeout of UCSB pinch-hitter Billy Fredrick despite inheriting a 2-0 count.

Things really slipped away from UCSB in the proceeding half inning, as the Trojans strung together four hits around three intentional walks and a muffed sacrifice bunt to score six runs off the Gauchos.

Gilbert went on to retire the Gauchos in order in the bottom of the ninth to close out the game for his second save of the season.

It was a tough result for UCSB, which had potential rallies snuffed out by hard-hit line drives that turned into line-outs in the first, fourth, and fifth innings. The first one was especially damaging, as a liner up the middle by Nesovic would have easily scored a run to create some early momentum but instead turned into an inning ending double play as leadoff man Andrew Calica was retired without a throw at second.

Senior second baseman Woody Woodward, one of two five-year members of the program on the active roster, had a performance to remember in his final collegiate game. The Glendora native went a team-best 3-4 with a double and a run scored.

Sophomore center fielder Andrew Calica reached base three more times on the day, and he finishes the Regional with a .714 average (5-7).

Senior right fielder Luke Swenson made the defensive play of the game in the second inning. USC DH David Oppenheim drove a fly ball off the 36-foot tall right field wall at Lake Elsinore Stadium, but Swenson read the carom perfectly, fielding the bounce, and fired a strike into second base to easily retire the runner.

Despite the loss, UCSB’s 2015 season was one of the best in program history. The team was selected to host an NCAA Regional for the first time ever, they set a record for wins (40) against Division I opponents, had three 100+ innings pitched pitchers on the staff, and they set school records for single-season ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (475).

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