UC Davis had lost seven of its last nine games. Of those seven losses, four were decided in the seventh inning or later.
Over the weekend, the Aggies returned the favor.
In each of UC Davis’ three contests against UC Santa Barbara, the Aggies scored the eventual winning run in the seventh inning or later.
“It’s a huge step,” said coach Rex Peters. “To win like that in the Big West Conference is not an easy task.”
Friday – UC Davis 6, UCSB 5
The series-opening victory for the Aggies marked a turning point.
It appeared as though UC Davis was back to its old ways as it held a 6-0 lead going into the seventh inning.
Starter Dayne Quist was mowing down the Gaucho offense before he began to falter in the seventh frame. In total, the Santa Cruz, Calif. native went seven innings while issuing five hits, four walks, two earned runs and nine strikeouts.
With the score standing at 6-2, Quist was pulled after the seventh in favor of reliever Scott Chew. Chew struggled as he allowed three earned runs while only recording one out.
The score was then 6-5 with just one out in the eighth inning. It appeared as if the Aggies were going to lose another game in the closing moments. However, Matthew Lewis entered the game and pitched 1.2 near-perfect innings in which he allowed only one hit and recorded two strikeouts to pick up his seventh save of the year.
“[Quist] gave us a decent effort,” Peters said. “It was a close win because we almost blew a 6-2 lead.”
UC Davis recorded 11 hits and had an outstanding performance from sophomore David Popkins. The designated hitter went 3-for-5 with two RBI. The performance began a torrid streak for Popkins who was rewarded with the Big West Conference Field Player of the Week award.
Saturday – UC Davis 11, UCSB 6
After this win, the Aggies knew that momentum was on their side.
Trailing 6-4 entering the seventh inning, UC Davis rallied to score seven runs in the final three frames for the win.
“[Starting pitcher] Sean Watson wasn’t bad,” Peters said. “He gave us a chance to come back late.”
Watson went 4.1 innings while allowing seven hits, six earned runs, four walks and three strikeouts. In his last start, Watson pitched eight brilliant innings en-route to a devastating late-inning loss. This time around, it would be the offense and the bullpen to carry the team.
After struggling of late, the Aggie relief pitching showed its potential as Scott Heinig and CJ Blom combined to throw 4.2 scoreless innings in relief of Watson.
Despite the impressive performance from the bullpen, the Aggie offense was the highlight of the game.
In total, UC Davis logged 17 hits. The most notable individual performances came from Popkins and Scott Lyman. Popkins continued to show his offensive prowess as he went 4-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. Despite the fact that Popkins eventually won the weekly Big West hardware, Lyman was catalyst on Saturday.
The sophomore right fielder went 4-for-5 from the dish, drove in six runs, scored twice and hit his fifth homerun of the season.
Sunday – UC Davis 9, UCSB 8
Having already clinched the series win, UC Davis could have come out flat against UCSB.
They did just that as they trailed by a score of 8-2 going into the eighth inning.
In the end, the Aggies simply refused to lose.
After Lyman gave up eight earned runs in four innings to begin the contest, he and the rest of the Aggie offense picked up the slack as it scored twice in the eighth then four times in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
Continuing his dominance, Popkins went 4-for-4 with five RBI, two runs and two homeruns in the first nine innings. To the dismay of the Gauchos, Popkins stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded in the top of the 10th. He delivered a run-scoring walk to give UC Davis a 9-8 lead it would not relinquish.
“To be down by six in the eighth and rally to win is huge, especially in the Big West,” Peters said. “It shows the confidence and the character that our team has.”
MARK LING can be reached at email@example.com.