After dropping the series opener to Santa Clara on Friday, the No. 8 UCSB baseball team responded with back-to-back victories to clinch the three-game series following Sunday’s 5-4 win at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
Rodney Boone was nothing short of sensational on the mound in his first start of the season, McClain O’Connor shined at the plate with his first home run of the season, and Chris Troye blew away the Bronco hitters in the ninth with a fastball that touched 99 MPH and a devastating slider.
UCSB’s victory followed Saturday’s 9-6 win.
“I was pleased with this response and how we handled that,” Gaucho coach Andrew Checketts said of the final two games of the series.
What made it even more special for Checketts was his team beat a good opponent.
Santa Clara returns 98% of its at-bats and 92% of its innings pitched from last year’s team that was 12-5 when the coronavirus shut everything down.
“They’re good. They were 12-5 last year for a reason,” Checketts said. “I told my assistants I thought we were playing BYU, which typically has these older guys. I feel like we’re old, but man I felt like we were playing a bunch of 30 year olds this weekend.
“They’ve got a good team. … They’ve got enough pitching, they don’t hurt themselves, they can play defense up the middle. They had a couple of defensive miscues today, but for the most part they played solid defense up the middle, and they’re tough to pitch to.”
Boone retired eight of the first 10 batters he faced.
He also was the beneficiary of the weekend’s top defensive play from third baseman Cole Cummings, who dove to his right to make a stop of a harder grounder by Santa Clara’s Efrain Manzo and turn it into an out with a strong throw to first. Boone allowed no runs on two hits with nine strikeouts and one walk in five innings to earn his first win of the season.
“I thought he was fantastic. Just what we needed,” Checketts said of his redshirt sophomore left-hander. “He had a good changeup going and I think his velocity is catching up a little bit.”
Boone’s outstanding performance was a bit of a surprise to Checketts.
“He was actually, going into the weekend, the one guy who we thought was probably further behind than the other two just based on his ramp-up and where he was at (in preseason workouts).
“He had that good changeup going and he threw strikes. When he’s got those two things going he’s pretty tough.”
UCSB got to Santa Clara starter Matthew McGarry for a run in the first inning on an infield single by Marcos Castanon that scored O’Connor from third. The Gauchos tacked on two more in the third on O’Connor’s home run and an infield ground out by Bryce Willits to take a 3-0 lead.
UCSB added to the lead in the fourth on pinch-hitter Jordan Sprinkle’s single to left that scored Nick Vogt. The Gauchos then scored their final run in the fifth with another RBI ground out by Willits for a 5-0 lead.
UCSB was in cruise control until the sixth, when the Broncos scored four times off reliever James Callahan. The big blow was a three-run, opposite-field home run to right by graduate transfer Mike Bowes. It was Bowes third home run of the series.
While it was a rough sixth inning for Callahan, it was hardly all his fault. He struck out lead-off batter Dawson Brigman on a nasty slider in the dirt.
But when the ball got by catcher Mason Eng, Brigman was safe at first. There was also an error by the Gauchos in the sixth that made things more taxing for UCSB’s redshirt freshman right-hander. Still, Checketts decided to run Callahan out for the seventh, and the young hurler rewarded his coach by delivering a shutout inning.
“The best thing about that is that he came back and threw up a zero after that inning,” Checketts said. “A lot of young guys, after that (sixth) inning happened, will come back the next one and try too hard.
“He didn’t. He bounced back after that. He finished the inning, got out of it, then came back the next inning. I thought his response when it was going sideways for him and the team was good.”
Troye wrapped things up on Sunday with three straight strikeouts in the top of the ninth to earn the save.
With a number of Major League Baseball scouts in attendance looking at Boone, Michael McGreevy (UCSB’s Saturday starter), Troye and others, the Gauchos flamethrower didn’t disappoint. Troye missed all of last season with elbow surgery, but came back in impressive fashion on Sunday.
“He looked like a real closer,” Checketts said. “Along with his velocity, that breaking ball (slider) has really come on. It’s something he struggled with early in his career, but he’s done a really nice job developing that.”
Checketts noticed something else about Troye when he was in the game.
“He actually threw a pitch and smiled afterwards when he was out there,” UCSB’s veteran coach said. “It wasn’t a cocky smile, it was like he was enjoying the moment, and enjoying himself.
“I think in the past he’s maybe put too much pressure on himself. … It was good to see him in character.”
The Gauchos next game is Friday afternoon in Malibu against Pepperdine.