(photo by Craig Jackson)
OMAHA, Neb. – For some, bunt is a four-letter word. For others, it’s simply a baseball way of life.
UC Santa Barbara, much like its West Coast brethren, falls into the latter group.
In an elimination game at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Monday afternoon, Ryan Cumberland delivered a clutch two-run single before the Gauchos turned to the safety squeeze on consecutive batters. The result was a four-run sixth inning that lifted UCSB to its first College World Series in school history, a 5-3 triumph that ended No. 3 national seed Miami’s season.
“We just kind of know who we are,” shortstop JJ Muno said. “We don’t have a bunch of guys that are at a professional level in their swings consistency-wise, power wise. We kind of understand that we’re not going to be – especially at this place – hitting balls out of the yard all over the place, one through nine in our lineup.
“We just kind of know who we are. We don’t see it as West Coast baseball, we kind of see it as baseball.”
The Gauchos (43-19-1) and Hurricanes (50-14) each scored a run in the first inning then traded zeroes for the next four and a half innings. A rain delay of 62 minutes halted play in the bottom of the sixth, with no outs and Devon Gradford (2 for 4, R) on first after a single.
With a pair of lefties coming up after the delay, Miami coaches elected to stick with lefty starter Danny Garcia, who overcame a couple shaky innings at the outset to retire 10 straight entering the stoppage. It helped that Garcia had thrown only 76 pitches to that point.
“You know, playing at Miami, we have quite a few rain delays,” Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said. “So we’re used to handling that.”
Garcia got Austin Bush to fly out, but Muno (2 for 4, R, RBI), who had singled in Clay Fisher with a two-strike, two-out single in the first, doubled down the line in right to put runners on second and third. Frankie Bartow entered and fell behind Dempsey Grover 3-0 before the Canes decided to walk him intentionally to load the bases and set up a double play.
Cumberland, who had been battling flu throughout the day, was called upon to pinch-hit and hit a sharp grounder that stayed just fair inside the first-base bag. Two runs scored for a 3-1 lead, and Cumberland narrowly got back to first base after taking a big turn on the hit.
“He [coach Andrew Checketts] had told me to get ready to hit for Plantier before the rain delay happened,” said Cumberland, who entered just 5 for 22 (.227) but largely puts the ball in play. “And I wasn’t feeling particularly well before the rain delay.
“I just went back to the locker room and kind of laid down and relaxed and visualized my next AB if I had it, and got ready in the cage and tried to focus on what the team needed rather than how I felt.”
With runners on the corners, 8-hole hitter Billy Fredrick placed a safety squeeze down the first-base line to score Grover to make it 4-1, and Fredrick reached when Christopher Barr’s throw was a touch high and mishandled by second baseman Johnny Ruiz covering first.
The very next pitch, the Gauchos did it again.
With runners on the corners, 9-hole hitter Ryan Clark placed a safety squeeze down the first-base line to score Cumberland to make it 5-1.
“In that situation you’re trying to get a run and trying to stay out of the double play,” UCSB coach Andrew Checketts said. “It felt like the guys at the plate were good matches to execute. It felt like maybe Clark [34 Ks, 7 BB on year] was somebody who could strike out if he got to two strikes, so we wanted to do it early in the count with him. Really just trying to extend the lead a little bit and get the ball to our bullpen.”
Miami, one of three national seeds to reach Omaha, showed some fight in the eighth by scoring twice off Kyle Nelson. Randy Batista had an RBI single, and Zack Collins, whose 16th homer of the season gave the Canes a 1-0 lead in the first, singled in another to cap a 2-for-2 day.
But Nelson got Brandon Lopez to fly out to right and struck out Ruiz looking to escape the damage.
“I’m disappointed in the way we played out here in Omaha,” Morris said. “We didn’t do the little things that we did all year to win the number of games we did.”
In two games in Omaha, the Hurricanes went 16 for 67 (.238) with five extra-base hits. They entered as a .300 hitting team and leave the College World Series having scored four runs in two games – Miami scored nine runs in going 1-2 last year in Omaha.
On Monday, they mustered only two hits on Gauchos freshman Noah Davis (7-4), who tossed six innings and struck out three.
“We didn’t swing the bat the way I know we can swing it,” Morris said. “We didn’t get the big hits that we’ve been getting all year.”
UCSB, on the other hand, made the most of its sixth-inning opportunity after missing a bases-loaded chance in the second.
And the Gauchos are in unfamiliar territory, celebrating another program first: a win in the College World Series.
“Happy for our guys, our fans, and everybody is celebrating like we just won the whole thing,” Checketts said. “But it’s hard to act like you’ve done it before when you’ve never done it before.”