UCSB catcher Gianni Bloom takes a high and tight fastball. | Credit: Lily Chubb

A strong start fizzled, and the UCSB baseball team is now on the brink of elimination following a 7-3 loss to Texas State in its NCAA tournament opener on Friday night.

The Gauchos surrendered an early two-run lead and struggled to slow the Bobcats’ offense as the crucial contest progressed into the late innings.

“They did a nice job. They outplayed us today,” said UCSB coach Andrew Checketts. “They played a good game. We played a poor game. We didn’t throw enough strikes.”

Corey Lewis struggled to find the strike zone in his five innings on the mound, but battled to keep the Gauchos close.  The burly right-hander tossed 110 pitches and struck out eight in his first loss of the season. 

A three-run homer by Peyton Lewis in the bottom of the fourth inning turned the tide, shifting Texas State’s 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead and put the Gauchos in catch up mode for the remainder of the game.

A string of UCSB relievers beginning with Matt Ager couldn’t stop the onslaught of the Texas State offense as a two-run homer by Ben McClain in the bottom of the sixth inning extended the Bobcats lead to 6-3. 

UCSB closer Ryan Harvey entered the game with no outs and Justin Thompson on first base in the bottom of the seventh inning. He surrendered two singles and walked Peyton Lewis with the bases loaded to score Thompson, which increased the Texas State lead to 7-3.

“We were really invested in this game and trying to do everything we could to stay in the winners bracket so we brought Harvey in a little bit earlier,”  said Checketts of his pitching decisions. 

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The Gauchos had opportunities to blow the game open in the first two innings. In the top of the first inning Blake Klassen led off with a single and Christian Kirtley followed with a walk. The next batter, Bryce Willits, grounded into a double play, but Nick Vogt followed with a double into the left-center field gap that scored Klassen.

Broc Mortensen extended the UCSB lead to 2-0 with a solo homer to straight away center field.

“Our at bats were pretty good early. I thought we had some chances to land some blows and missed those,” Checketts said.  “That allowed (Zeke Wood) to settle in a little bit.  He got better in the middle inning and adjusted.”

Broc Mortensen celebrates his solo homer in the top of the second inning. | Credit: Lily Chubb

Vogt was a major bright spot for UCSB as he went 2-for-4 at the plate, including a homer in the top of the sixth inning that cut the UCSB deficit to 4-3 and made a spectacular catch up against the wall in left-center field to rob extra bases from Dalton Shuffield.

The Gauchos will now have to take the long road through the losers bracket if they hope to advance to Super Regionals.

UCSB will take on Binghamton in an elimination game on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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