SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara will play for the automatic qualifying berth in the NCAA baseball playoffs Saturday afternoon.
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs clinched their Big West Conference and Blue-Green Rivalry series Friday with a 4-3 victory inside Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, Cal Poly's 11th consecutive win over the Gauchos.
If Cal Poly wins Saturday, the Mustangs would move into a tie for first place with UC Santa Barbara and would own the tiebreaker for the automatic berth in next weekend's NCAA regionals. UC Irvine was knocked out of contention for a share of the title Friday night with a 3-1 loss at UC Riverside.
A Gaucho win gives UC Santa Barbara the Big West title outright and the automatic qualifying spot. Cal Poly enters Saturday's 1 p.m. regular season finale 28-27 on the year and 17-6 in conference games while the No. 4 Gauchos are 44-9 and 18-5.
Taylor Dollard pitched a career-high six innings in relief and Conagher Sands drove in three runs with a home run and a double to lead Cal Poly to Friday's victory, dropping the Gauchos to 26-3 at home and 35-2 when UCSB hits a home run.
Dollard (5-0) (pictured above) allowed two runs and three hits with one walk and three strikeouts, throwing 79 pitches in relief of starter Andrew Alvarez, who tossed three-plus innings with one run and three hits.
Sands erased a 1-0 deficit with a run-scoring double in the third inning and blasted a two-run home run, his second of the year, to give Cal Poly a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
UC Santa Barbara answered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to re-tie the game at 3-3.
In the seventh, Elijah Greene tripled to the gap in right-center field with one out. Tate Samuelson lined out to first base for the second out and, after Sands was intentionally walked, catcher Myles Emmerson, Cal Poly's top hitter in Big West games, singled through the right side of the Gauchos infield to score Greene with the go-ahead run.
Trevor Mitchell was hit by a pitch with one out in the seventh but was stranded at first base. Dollard retired the side in order in the eighth before hitting Tommy Jew with a pitch leading off the ninth. Jew advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, but Dollard retired the final two Gaucho batters on a foul pop-up to third baseman Nick DiCarlo and a fly ball to Greene in right field, setting the stage for a winner-take-all season finale Saturday.
Cal Poly collected 11 hits, including two each by Sands, Greene, Samuelson and Emmerson. Sands, who had a 23-game hitting streak snapped last Friday by UC Riverside, has hit safely in 27 of his last 28 contests.
The Gauchos, held to three runs and eight hits in the first two games of the series, received two singles from Jew. Thomas Rowan hit a solo home run in the second inning and UCSB tied the game in the fifth on an RBI double by Andrew Martinez and a wild pitch.
The loss went to Michael McGreevy (5-1) as he allowed two runs and five hits over four innings in relief of starter Ben Brecht (4 1/3 innings, two runs, six hits, five strikeouts).
Dollard secured the final six outs of Thursday's 3-0 victory, throwing 26 pitches, as UC Santa Barbara was shut out for the first time this season.
Three calls were overturned via replay or conference.
Jew attempted to steal third base in the second inning and, after a replay review, was called out as his left hand came off the bag, DiCarlo applying the tag on the hip. In the fourth, Jew was initially called out at first base on a grounder to shortstop, but the call was reversed following replay review. Also in the fourth, with Jason Willow at the plate, Jew tried to steal second base on a swinging third strike and the throw sailed into center field. After a conference, Willow was called out for interfering with Mustang catcher Myles Emmerson, the double play ending the inning.
Cal Poly has beaten UC Santa Barbara 11 straight times, including sweeps in 2016 (the year the Gauchos reached the College World Series for the first time), 2017 and 2018. The Gauchos entered the series with the best winning percentage in Division I (44-7, .863).
Final game of the series will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. with Chase Watkins (0-2, 5.19 ERA) to start for Cal Poly against UC Santa Barbara's Rodney Boone (7-0, 3.10 ERA) in a matchup of freshman southpaws.