Bryce Willits posted seven RBI in game one of No. 24 UCSB’s three-game series with CSUN (15-12, 4-6), leading the Gauchos (19-8, 8-2) to a come-from-behind win over the Matadors 13-10. Four long balls helped lift the Gauchos to victory in this back-and-forth offensive showcase.
Making his first start since the UCSD series down in Lake Elsinore was Willits, who appeared to not miss a step, becoming the first Gaucho since Austin Bush (2016) to have a seven-RBI game. Assuming his spot at third base, Willits went 4-for-5 with two home runs, a double, two runs, and an intentional walk.
The Gauchos scored in each of the last seven innings to come back and win game one using 15 hits, four walks, and a pair of Matador errors.
Blake Klassen, Kyle Johnson, Christian Kirtley and John Newman Jr., all notched multi-hit efforts. Klassen, Johnson and Kirtley all supplied doubles.
Kirtley and Broc Mortensen each went yard in huge moments of the game.
Kirtley has now reached base safely in 15 straight games, Willits has in 13, Klassen has in 10, and Johnson extended his hit streak to nine-straight.
Earning the win was Michael Rice (4-0), who pitched four effective innings allowing just two runs while striking out two. Matt Ager picked up his third save of the season, collecting the last four outs of the game.
UCSB is a perfect 4-0 in conference series openers.
CSUN began the game with a run in both the first and second to go up 2-0, but the Gauchos’ scoring run began in the top of the third as Willits tied the game with one swing, smacking a ground rule double that brought in Jason Willow and Mason Eng.
The Matador offense answered with a three-spot in the third and the Gauchos chipped away in the bottom half as Jordan Sprinkle collected an RBI single to make it 5-3 in CSUN’s favor.
The biggest lead of the day for the host Matadors came in the bottom of the fourth as the home team singled the Gauchos to death to take a 7-3 lead.
Trailing by four, Kirtley stepped to the plate in the fifth and cut that lead in half, sending a bomb over the center field wall to score Johnson and make it 7-5.
Again the trade continued with CSUN extending its lead to 8-5 in the bottom half and the Gauchos chipping away again in the top of the 6th. This time it was Willits launching his first homer of the day, a two-run bomb to score Klassen and make it a one-run game at 8-7.
Finally, the Gauchos managed to keep the Matadors off of the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth and Mortensen made it count, tying the game with an opposite field homer that he muscled over the wall in left.
UCSB held CSUN scoreless in the seventh as well, giving itself a chance to take its first lead of the game in the eighth. And take the lead the Gauchos did, as Newman Jr. and Klassen got aboard for Willits. The Matadors went to the bullpen to bring in a lefty, but it wouldn’t matter as Willits crushed a no-doubter on a hanging breaking ball over the right field wall to put UCSB up 11-8. Mortensen capped off the inning with an RBI groundout to extend the lead to 12-8.
Once again, the two teams traded runs as CSUN scored on a wild pitch in the eighth, followed by an RBI groundout from Nick Vogt, and finally the last run was plated in the bottom of the ninth for CSUN making the final score 13-10.
UCSB will look to take the series at Matador Field tomorrow in game two. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. in Northridge as Mike Gutierrez is expected to take the bump to start.
Daniel Moebus-Bowles writes about sports for UCSB.