As the son of former UC Santa Barbara baseball coach Bob Brontsema, UC Irvine freshman John Brontsema lugged bats back to the Gauchos' dugout for most of his childhood. Friday night, however, it was his ability to swing one that helped the Anteaters defeat the Gauchos.
The younger Brontsema, who chipped in a stellar defensive play at second base, went two for four with an run-producing triple in UCI's 6-2 win to open a three-game Big West Conference series at Anteater Ballpark.
The win was the fifth straight for the 'Eaters (30-14, 12-1 in conference), ranked No. 20 by Collegiate Baseball. It also solidified their hold on first place, increasing their lead over second-place Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to 1.5 games, after the Mustangs (12-4 in conference) fell to UC Riverside, 7-3, Friday.
UCI senior pitcher Andrew Morales improved to 8-0 this season and 18-0 in his UCI career, and junior closer Sam Moore upped his NCAA-leading save total to 20.
But it was likely Brontsema, whose dad was fired from the school after 18 seasons as head coach and 30 seasons, including two as a player and 10 more as an assistant following the 2011 campaign, who gained the most satisfaction from his team's 10th straight conference win.
"It was a lot of fun, and a lot of anticipation all week," said Brontsema, who singled and scored in a two-run fifth inning that broke a 2-2 deadlock. "There is a lot of history there. It was tough to compose myself, because I was pretty amped. But my parents and my teammates really helped by telling me to channel my [excitement] toward the game.
"I've got a million blue shirts that say UCSB baseball on them and I know the whole history of that program. I was a bat boy for almost every game growing up and I think, at some point in my life, I've stepped on every inch of that [UCSB home] field. So, it was fun to come out and beat them."
Morales allowed six hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings to retain his unbeaten status as an Anteater.
Moore got the final two outs to leave the bases loaded in the ninth to add to his school single-season record.
Junior first baseman Connor Spencer was two for three with two runs batted in. He sprayed a two-run double inside third and into the corner to key the fifth-inning rally that helped the hosts pull away.
Sophomore left fielder Grant Palmer was two for four to help UCI compile 10 hits against three Gauchos pitchers, including starter Justin Jacome, who fell to 5-2.
UCI opened a 2-0 lead in the second inning, thanks to an RBI double by sophomore designated hitter Jonathan Munoz and an RBI single by junior center fielder Justin Castro.
But a bases-loaded single by Tyler Kuresa pulled the visitors (26-12-1, 7-9) even. Kuresa's big hit doubled the number of runs allowed at home by Morales this season, a span of seven starts and 54 innings coming in. The two earned runs increased his earned run average from 0.78 to 0.91.
Brontsema's triple in the sixth upped UCI's lead to 5-2 and an RBI single by junior catcher Jerry McClanahan, giving him 14 of his 28 RBIs this season in conference play, finalized the scoring in the seventh.
The series continues Saturday at 1 p.m.
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 6, UC Santa Barbara 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
UCSB 002 000 000 – 2 7 1
UCI 020 021 10x – 6 10 0
Jacome, Baits (6), Cuneo (7) and Wear; Morales, Merten (8), Moore (9) and McClanahan. W – Morales, 8-0. L – Jacome, 5-2. Sv – Moore (20). 2B – Maris (UCSB), Munoz (UCI), Spencer (UCI),. 3B – Bronseman (UCI).