SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - What started out as a nice, relaxed Saturday afternoon for the 10th-ranked UC Santa Barbara baseball team turned into a wild ride, but in the end, the result was still an 8-7 Big West Conference win over Hawai'i at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
The Gauchos (19-4, 1-1) took a commanding 8-0 lead over the Rainbow Warriors (13-13, 1-1), before the visitors made things very interesting.
Joey Epperson, who was a perfect 4-for-4 on the afternoon to raise his average to .500 (44-of-88), got UCSB on the board first when he singled home Andrew Calica, who had walked, in the top of the first inning.
The score remained 1-0 until the Gauchos opened the bottom of the fourth with five consecutive hits and exploded for five runs to claim a comfortable 6-0 lead.
A single by Peter Maris was followed by back-to-back doubles from Epperson and Robby Nesovic, and then back-to-back triples by Tyler Kuresa and Woody Woodward, to make it 5-0. Woodward, whose triple was a blooper behind first base that landed amidst a committee of UH players, scored the final run of the inning when Cameron Newell grounded out.
Santa Barbara tacked on two more runs in the fifth. With one out Maris walked and was chased home by an Epperson double. One out later, Epperson scored on a double by Kuresa to make it 8-0.
Gaucho starting pitcher Austin Pettibone (2-0), who was making just his second appearance of the season as he returns from an injury, departed the game after five innings. Pettibone, the team's ace in 2013, was on a pitch count and he really did make his pitches count as he tossed five shutout innings, allowing just three singles while posting two strikeouts and no walks.
Andrew Vasquez entered the game and gave up one run in the sixth inning, but UCSB still had an 8-1 led entering the seventh, but that's when things started to turn.
With one out, Steven Pollakov walked, Adam Hurley hit a seeing-eye single to center and Austin Wobrock walked to load the bases. Connor Baits was summoned to replace Vasquez, but his luck wasn't any better as he was greeted by an RBI single from Stephen Ventimilia.
The bases were still loaded when Kaeo Aliviado tripled to right center, scoring three and making the score 8-5. Aliviado then came home on an infield single by Jordan Richartz and it was 8-6. Baits got Marc Flores and Marcus Doi to end the inning.
Santa Barbara closer Dillon Tate was brought in to pitch the eighth. After Juliene Jones struck out swinging, Pollakov, Hurley and Wobrock had consecutive singles to load the bases with one out, bringing up Ventimilia, UH's leadoff hitter.
Ventimilia was swinging Tate's first offering and he hit a line shot to center field that was caught by Calica who then made a perfect throw to catcher Jackson Morrow to nail Pollakov at the plate and end the inning with the lead remaining 8-6.
The ninth inning was just as tense. Aliviado reached on an error, and after Richartz struck out looking, Flores singled to right field moving Aliviado to third. The next batter, Doi, hit a line shot to right field, but the Gauchos' Scott Quinlan made a sliding play and caught the ball just before it landed, for the second out of the inning.
Pinch hitter Matt Miller then bounced a 1-2 pitch that a leaping Tate deflected towards Woodward at second base, but there was no play at first and Aliviado scored to make the score 8-7 with two outs, but the next batter, Pollakov, hit a harmless grounder back to Tate who ran towards first, underhanded a throw to Kuresa, and the game was over.
In addition to his four hits, Epperson had a pair of RBI and scored two runs. .Kuresa and Nesovic also had two RBI apiece. Flores and Hurley led the Rainbow Warrior attack with four and three hits respectively.
Tate was credited with his sixth save of the season for the Gauchos. Scott Squier, a 6-foot-5 lefty who was being looked at by more than a dozen scouts, was tagged with the loss for UH and is now 2-2.
The teams will play the rubber game of the three-game series on Sunday with first pitch slated for 1:00 p.m. Plenty of great seats are available for purchase 90 minutes prior.