Senior Eric Johnson hit a walk-off single Friday, and senior pitcher Tom Briner’s complete game shutout Saturday helped UC Davis en route to its series win over second-place California State University, Long Beach State.
The Aggies had to rally from a 5-4 deficit in the ninth on Friday after giving up the lead in the top half of the inning. Johnson went 5-for-7 at the plate in the two victories to lead the offense.
UC Davis moves to 20-27 overall and 8-10 in the Big West Conference.
Friday — UC Davis 6, Long Beach State 5
In a back-and-forth contest, UC Davis jumped on the board in the first with an RBI single from senior Nick Lynch that scored freshman Kevin Barker.
Long Beach State responded with two runs in the next two innings, but Lynch blasted the first pitch he received in the bottom of the third for his fourth home run of the season and tied the game at 2-2.
Senior starter Anthony Kupbens battled the 90-degree heat to pitch seven innings, giving up only three runs, two of which were earned.
LBSU took a one-run lead in the seventh, but again the Aggies responded. Junior Austin Logan drew a walk, senior Ryan Allgrove pinch-ran and moved to second on a wild pitch and freshman Tino Lipson, who originally was trying to sacrifice bunt before the wild pitch, came through with an RBI single to tie the game 3-3.
In the bottom of the eighth, Barker reached first on an error, and then Johnson drove a pitch to the right center-field gap for a double and a 4-3 advantage for UC Davis.
Sophomore Harry Stanwyck relieved freshman Craig Lanza in the ninth, but the Dirtbags rallied and took a 5-4 lead to set up a dramatic finish.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, senior David Popkins took one for the team after being hit by a pitch. With two outs, senior Paul Politi fought off a two-strike count and singled to right to keep the inning alive.
Barker hit his team-leading 13th double of the season to bring home Popkins and tie the game at 5-5. Up stepped Johnson, and the senior sent the fans home happy with an RBI single to score Politi.
“We don’t give up, we don’t die,” Johnson said of the late-inning drama. “It’s fun. The bats seem to come alive when the pressure is on, and we have our toughest [at bats] then. Coach Vaughn is big on tough ABs when it counts. We grind, especially in the eighth and ninth; we grind it out and find a way.”
Saturday — UC Davis 5, Long Beach State 0
Briner’s third complete game of the season may have been his most impressive yet, throwing just 79 pitches to shut down LBSU and to lead UC Davis to its second-straight series victory.
Briner struck out one batter with no walks and six hits. He faced only three batters over the minimum (27) and 60 of his 79 pitches were strikes.
“To get that outing on this weekend was phenomenal,” said head coach Matt Vaughn. “His attitude when he goes out there every time is to give us a chance to win, and not only did he do that today, but he just took it over.”
At the plate, Johnson followed up his late-inning heroics with another strong performance on offense, going 2-for-3 with a double, his first home run of the season, and scored three of the Aggies’ five runs.
“I’m really proud of Eric,” Vaughn said. “This year did not start the way he wanted it to start, and he battled through a couple of things. He’s never lost sight of it and he’s kept working hard. He’s turning a corner at the plate and, as you can see, it makes us a much more offensive team.”
Johnson’s home run to left in the second inning preceded senior Scott Kalush’s opposite-field home run, his fourth of the season.
This marked the first time since April 30, 2011 that UC Davis hit back-to-back homers. Johnson and Kalush win a 6-0 win against California State Northridge.
Sunday — Long Beach State 4, UC Davis 1
UC Davis managed just three hits off LBSU starter Shawn Stuart as the Dirtbags avoided the sweep.
Kevin Barker recorded two of the Aggie hits while Politi had one. Politi was also hit by a pitch, marking the 79th time this season a player has been hit, and setting a UC Davis record that had stood since 1994.
Senior Brett Morgan scored the lone run for the Aggies after he too was hit by a pitch. He stole second and then advanced to third on a ground out. He scored on a passed ball.
Freshman Spencer Koopmans went five and two-thirds innings in the start, giving up four runs (three earned) while striking out two with no walks. Lanza threw three and one-third scoreless innings in relief.
UC Davis plays its fifth game in five days today, a make-up game against San Jose State University at Blethen Field, first pitch at 1:30 p.m.
RUSSELL EISENMAN can be reached at email@example.com.