Larsen's heroics launch Diamond Dawgs

Kyle Larsen singled to score Taylor Johnson with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Huskies beat the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 6-5 on Saturday afternoon in the middle game of a three game series at Husky Ballpark.

With the win the Huskies finally evened their season record at 7-7 after opening 0-4, while the Gauchos dropped to 8-8.

Washington had a chance to wrap up the victory without coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth, but their bullpen gave up a two run, 5-3 lead in the top of the ninth.

Josh Conover opened the inning on the mound for the Huskies with a chance to save starter Matt Kasser's second win of the season. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced, but hit a batter, yielded a single to Matt Aidem, and walked Chris Malec to load the bases. He then walked Matt Wilkerson to force home Matt Stevens and bring the Gauchos to within one run at 5-4.

Husky head coach Ken Knutson then brought in Johnson, the right fielder, to set up a matchup between the left handed throwing Johnson and the left handed hitting Bill Rowe. It did not turn out the way the Huskies would have liked as Johnson walked Rowe on four pitches to score pinch runner Travis LeBouf and tie the game at 5.

Knutson then went back to the bullpen and brought in Brandon McKerney to pitch to Chris Valaika. Valaika looked like he had a single up the middle but shortstop Brent Lillibridge got to the ball and flipped it to Mike Rundle just in time to force Wilkerson at second base and preserve the 5-5 tie.

Johnson led off the bottom of the ninth with a chance to make amends for his game tying walk and fouled off four pitches against Gaucho reliever Loren Fraser before drawing a walk. Rundle sacrificed Johnson to second, and after Lillibridge struck out, Larsen lined a single to left to score Johnson with the game winner. The Gauchos may have had a play on Johnson at the plate but Matt Stevens overran the ball and failed to come up with it.

McKerney faced only one batter and got the win in his first career decision. Fraser suffered the loss for the Gauchos to drop to 1-2.

The Huskies scored all five runs in the bottom of the first inning against starter Michael Martin. Johnson blooped a single to left center and stole second. Andy Lentz struck out but catcher Matt Kalafatis threw the ball into right field for an error, allowing Johnson to score and Lentz to advance to second. Lillibridge doubled down the left field line to score Lentz, and after Kyle Larsen got hit by a pitch, Zach Clem doubled down the left field line to score Lillibridge and make it 3-0 Washington. Curt Rindal made it 4-0 with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field, and the Huskies scored their final run when Clem scored on a throwing error by third baseman David Figoni.

The Gauchos got to Kasser for two runs in the fourth. Malec doubled to left, moved to third on a groundout and scored on another groundout by Rowe. Valaika got aboard on an infield single, stole second and scored on a line single to left by Matt Emerick. UC Santa Barbara made it 5-3 Huskies with a run in the top of the eighth against reliever Keaton Everitt. With one out Malec doubled to right, Wilkerson singled and Rowe doubled to center to plate Malec. With runners on at second and third Knutson brought in Matt Hague to relieve Everitt, and he escaped further damage by getting Valaika to pop out to Lillibridge and striking out Emerick.

With the shaky relief in the ninth, Kasser came away with a no-decision for the Huskies. He went seven innings, allowing two runs, both earned, on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts. For the Gauchos Martin went the first six, allowing five runs, but only two earned, on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts.

At the plate, for the Huskies, Johnson continued to live on base and remained perfect in the series. After three hits and a walk in the series opener on Friday night, he reached base all five times on Saturday with three more hits and a pair of walks. For the Gauchos Malec went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and Rowe went 1 for 4 with three runs batted in.

The Huskies go for the sweep of their first home series when they host the Gauchos in the finale at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Kyle Parker (2-2, 3.94) will take the mound for the Huskies.

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