A standing room only crowd gathered at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium to see the UCSB baseball team celebrate its first outright Big West Championship since 1986, but Cal Poly had plenty of incentive to spoil the party with a share of the conference title still within reach.
The Mustangs kept their NCAA Regionals hopes alive and defeated the Gauchos for the eleventh consecutive time over a four-season span with a 4-3 victory on Friday afternoon.
“We haven’t played great and we’re right there so if we can put a game together tomorrow we have a chance to win a championship,” said UCSB coach Andrew Checketts. “I told the guys, ‘if I told you six months ago you’d be playing at home against your rival with a chance to clinch an outright Big West championship would you take it?’ I think most of the guys in the dugout would take that.”
Coming into this three-game series the Gauchos only needed to win one game to wrap up perhaps the most successful regular season in program history, but it has been Cal Poly that seized the opportunity and will now play for a share of the Big West conference championship and the automatic berth into the postseason.
“We’re just trying to survive another day,” said Cal Poly coach Larry Lee, who captured his 1001st victory as a collegiate head coach, including a stint at Cuesta College. “We put ourselves in a position to try and take care of business, but it’ll be difficult. You only have so much pitching.”
Cal Poly reliever Taylor Dollard pitched a career-high six innings in relief of starter Andrew Alvarez and surrendered just two runs on three hits as the Gauchos’ right-handed hitters struggled to figure out his devastating slider.
Thomas Rowan launched his team-high 13th homerun of the season over the right-center field fence in the bottom of the second inning.
A one-out double by Conagher Sand in the top of the third inning evened the score at 1-1, but UCSB starting pitcher Ben Brecht was able to limit the damage.
Sand continued his hot hitting in the to of the fifth inning with a two-run homer off of UCSB reliever Michael McGreevy that put the Mustangs in front to 3-1.
The Gauchos (44-9 overall, 18-5 Big West) responded in the bottom half of the inning when Andrew Martinez doubled to left-center to score McClain O’Connor and move Eric Yang to third base. Yang went on to score on a wild pitch to even the game at 3-3.
Cal Poly (28-27, 17-6) took the lead for good in the top of the seventh after Elijah Greene tripled into the right-center field gap and Myles Emmerson brought him home with a softly hit ground ball that found its way through to right field.
Freshman southpaw Rodney Boone will take the mound for UCSB tomorrow with the Big West championship on the line.