The UCSB baseball team celebrates its 2022 Big West Championship. | Credit: Lily Chubb

The postgame reaction was delayed as UCSB third baseman Bryce Willits drifted out of sight deep into foul territory to track down the final pop up, but the sound of ball meeting leather was immediately followed by jubilation and a dog pile on the mound.

The UCSB baseball team defeated UC Riverside 6-0 Saturday afternoon to clinch its second Big West Championship in the past three full seasons.

“Frankly this group has overachieved based on the amount of guys we’ve lost off last year’s team and a few key injuries. For them to come out and win the conference championship speaks volumes to the maturity and the older guys in the group,” said UCSB coach Andrew Checketts. “We’ve got a lot of older guys and this will be their last opportunity to put on a Gaucho uniform and I’m happy for those guys.”

The Gauchos (39-12 overall, 23-3 Big West) have not lost a single series so far this season and are on the verge of eclipsing 40 wins for the third consecutive non-covid season.

Michael Gutierrez stood tall on the mound for UCSB on Saturday as he controlled the UC Riverside lineup for eight shutout innings. 

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With the victory Gutierrez improves to 7-1 on the season with a 3.15 ERA.

“I felt pretty good. My curve ball was working pretty good,” Gutierrez said. “The defense was outstanding today and John Newman Jr. called a good game back there. It was just a great team win today.”

On offense, UCSB got going in the bottom of the third inning on a towering two-run homer to left field by Christian Kirtley. 

“We were kind of slow to start today and with the Big West on the line I was trying to get a base hit to ignite us a little bit and get us going,” Kirtley said. “He hung a curveball and I’d much rather get us going with a home run than a base hit so I’ll take it.”

The Gauchos tacked on another run in the bottom of the fifth on a triple by Nick Vogt that drove in Willits, increasing the UCSB lead to 3-0. 

Broc Mortenson led off the bottom of the seventh inning with his team-high 13th home run of the season and Vogt continued his tear with a double to right that scored Willits putting the Gauchos ahead 5-0.

Broc Mortensen (center) lifts the Big West Championship Trophy. | Credit: Lily Chubb

Newman Jr. closed the scoring with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning and Ryan Harvey pitched a perfect top of the ninth inning to secure the victory.

“Now it’s about how we can get ourselves ready for the playoffs and what are those carrots that we can talk about to continue to try and play good baseball,” Checketts said. “We haven’t played great the past seven, eight, nine days so that will be the message: how can we get better and continue to improve.”

UCSB will celebrate its seniors for their final home game and go for the three-game sweep of UC Riverside on Sunday beginning at 1 p.m.

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