Last year’s No. 1 pitching staff in college baseball took a walk on the wild side to start this season.
UCSB walked in two runs and wild-pitched home another as Santa Clara rallied for an 8-4 victory in Friday’s season opener at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
The Gauchos, who tied Vanderbilt last year for the top earned run average in the country (1.84), walked seven Broncos altogether. The defeat snapped their eight-game winning streak which came at the end of last year’s COVID-shortened season.
Broncos closer Travis Howard shut UCSB down over the last 3 1/3 innings to earn the save, allowing just three hits, no walks and no runs with six strikeouts. Cole Kitchen picked up the win, allowing just two hits and no walks over 3 2/3 innings of relief.
The Gauchos, who out-hit Santa Clara 9-8, struck first with a two-run third inning. Mason Eng led off with a single and McClain O’Connor and Jordan Sprinkle followed with back-to-back, RBI doubles down the left-field line.
They had a chance for an even bigger inning after loading the bases with no outs on a hit batter and a walk. But UCSB’s next two batters popped out and the third struck out.
Starting pitcher Zach Torra, a preseason All-American, couldn’t hold the lead in his 3 2/3 innings of work. He gave up six hits, two walks and two earned runs — one more than he allowed last year in 25 1/3 innings. He was relieved after giving up his first home run as Gaucho. Austin Reyes hit a two-run blast over the left-field fence to tie the score in the top of the fourth.
UCSB took the lead back, 3-2, with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Jason Willow, getting new life when the Broncos dropped a pop fly in foul territory, drew a leadoff walk. He stole second base, continued to third on the catcher’s throwing error, and scored on O’Connor’s sacrifice fly to center field.
But Santa Clara needed just two hits to score six runs in the next two innings, taking advantage of five walks and a wild pitch to take an 8-3 lead. Mike Bowes delivered the big blow with a three-run homer. He went 3-for-5 with three runs scored.
The Gauchos scored their final run in the bottom of the sixth when Cole Cummings led off with a single and scored on O’Connor’s second double and third RBI of the game. Sprinkle and Marcos Castanon also had two hits in the game.
But the best pitching for both teams came in the final three innings.
Cory Lewis, a true freshman from Huntington Beach’s Marina High, was the most polished of four Gaucho pitchers which included two juniors and a senior. He pitched three no-hit, no-walk innings.
UCSB did threaten in the seventh when it started off the inning with back-to-back singles by Bryce Willits and Castanon. But Howard retired the next three Gauchos, and then struck out the side in the eighth.
The two teams will continue their three-game series today and Sunday with 1 p.m. games. Spectators will not be allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.