After dropping the first two games of a three game series, the Cal Poly baseball team (30-24, 10-11) was able to grind out a 6-4 victory in a back-and-forth battle against UC Riverside (24-28, 10-11) to avoid the series sweep.
Cal Poly had dropped its previous eight road games in conference play before Sunday’s victory at The Plex in Riverside. Road games have been a struggle all season long for the Mustangs, the win improving their record away from the shadows of Bishop Peak to a dismal 9-17.
Cal Poly threatened early but was unable to capitalize, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the first inning. The Mustangs stranded a total of 10 runners during the game.
In the the bottom of the third inning, the Highlanders drove in two runs on three doubles and an infield single to break the scoreless tie. After UC Riverside right fielder Austin Colvin drove in the game’s first run on a double to left-center field, Cal Poly freshman center fielder Alex McKenna made a key defensive play, throwing Colvin out at home plate after the next batter, left fielder Mark Contreras, doubled to center field.
Sophomore right-hander Jarred Zill (4-3, 2.79 ERA) gave up two runs on six hits before he left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning with an injury to his right forearm. Junior right-handed pitcher Justin Calomeni (5-2, 3.25 ERA) provided solid relief for the Mustangs, surrendering two runs on five hits while striking out five over five and a third innings in his win over the Highlanders.
UC Riverside was able to extend its early lead in the bottom of the fifth inning after catcher Matthew Ellis walked and scored after a pair of singles by Colvin and Contreras.
The Mustangs started chipping away at the Highlanders’ 3-0 lead in the top of the sixth, scratching across their first run on a throwing error to second base on junior left fielder Kevin Morgan’s steal. The errant throw allowed junior third baseman Michael Sanderson to score and Morgan to advance to third. Junior shortstop Brett Binning was able to score Morgan on a fielder’s choice for the Mustangs’ second run of the inning.
In the top of the seventh inning, Cal Poly took the lead for the first time in the series. Senior right fielder John Schuknecht tied the game on a sacrifice fly that scored freshman first baseman Cooper Moore. Moore reached base on a fielding error by UC Riverside shortstop Colby Schultz and advanced to third after wild pitch and fielder’s choice. McKenna put the Mustangs ahead 4-3 on a double by freshman second baseman Kyle Marinconz.
The Highlanders tied the game again in the bottom of the seventh inning on center fielder Vince Fernandez’s eighth home run of the year, tying him for the second most home runs in the Big West Conference with teammate Aaron Cisneros.
Cal Poly recaptured the lead in the top of the eighth inning after Morgan scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by sophomore designated hitter Josh George. This would be the winning run, however the Mustangs added an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning on a single by Marinconz that scored McKenna from second base.
Calomeni loaded the bases in the eighth inning, but was able to get out of trouble as pinch hitter Adonis Morrison hit into a double-play to end the inning before any runs scored. The Highlanders also stranded a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth inning with the tying run at the plate. UC Riverside left a total of nine runners on base throughout the game.
Cal Poly is now tied for fifth place in the Big West Conference with UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge. The Mustangs are only two games behind rival UC Santa Barbara, who is third in the conference. Cal Poly will look to end the season strong, as the last series of the season begins Thursday at 6 p.m. against UC Davis at Baggett Stadium.