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The Cal Poly baseball team saw improved play from at least one side of the pitching-defense-hitting trifecta, but again found itself unable to put all three together, falling 3-0 Tuesday night at Baggett Stadium to Santa Clara.
“We didn’t do a lot of things very well, and that seems to be the theme,” head coach Larry Lee said. “We’re not putting together enough components of the game to be successful, and we need to continue to work hard and hopefully some of the players will earn their playing time, because that’s all you ask for.”
Things didn’t start well for the Mustangs (2-7) and freshman starter Andrew Bernstein, who was pulled in the second after just 1 2/3 innings of work. Bernstein allowed an unearned run on one hit and three walks, while also hitting two batsmen and giving up a wild pitch to the Broncos (7-5) in the shaky start, falling to 2-1 on the season.
“It’s tough,” Bernstein said of his performance. “You do feel like you let your team down, and obviously I wasn’t on today. It’s a humbling experience to be taken out in the second inning; I just got to get after it this next week and change a few things about today’s game.”
Despite the rocky start, the Mustangs finished the night giving up a total of six hits as four pitchers combined to throw 7 1/3 innings of solid baseball following Bernstein’s rough outing.
The Mustangs bullpen also struck out four and walked one.
“For the most part, our pitching has gotten better,” Lee said of the bullpen work in Tuesday’s game. “It’s disappointing how we started today, but things have gotten a little better.”
Senior pitcher Danny Zandona, who improved his ERA to 1.80 in relief of Bernstein, played stopper to a Santa Clara offense that loaded the bases with two outs in the first. They then got three more on base in the second before he was pulled.
Zandona allowed one unearned run in his 2 1/3 innings of work. Catcher Brett Barbier was unable to handle a pitch in the dirt, which allowed Santa Clara center fielder T.C. Florentine to score from third.
Sophomore Nick Suniga, senior Taylor Chris and freshman Michael Gomez closed out the game after Zandona’s 2 1/3 innings of work, with Suniga and Chris pitching a combined three hitless innings.
“You just gotta have confidence in your team, and my guys definitely picked me up today,” Bernstein said. “While obviously you always want to be that guy to get it done, I have full faith that if I can’t do the job, someone else can.”
On the offensive side, there wasn’t much going for the Mustangs all night, who had trouble from the very first pitch in figuring out the deceptive left-handed delivery of Santa Clara freshman Kevin George.
“I feel like a lot of us were getting ourselves out and swinging at bad pitches, just not making him throw strikes,” junior designated hitter Mark Mathias said.
The Mustangs got more than three batters to the plate just twice against George and four times in the whole game.
A bright spot of offense came in the third when freshman right fielder Ben Polshuk saw the first hit of his college career — a two-out — slice through the 3-5 hole.
The excitement was short-lived, however, as Polshuk got caught leaning toward second the next at-bat and ended up victim to an inning-ending rundown.
The Mustangs didn’t get another hit following Polshuk’s third-inning single until the ninth, when they got a single thanks to designated hitter Mathias, who was playing in just his second game back from offseason surgery.
Mathias’ single was followed by a single from senior center fielder Jordan Ellis. With the tying runner at the plate twice in the inning, however, the Mustangs were unable to get a run on the board and were again sent back to the dugout scratching their heads.
The Mustangs offense, still without junior catcher Brian Mundell, who has been out with an ailing hamstring, is waiting for his bat to rejuvenate the lineup in the coming weeks.
“It’s tough,” Lee said. “We’re very limited in the moves we can make. We’re very thin with our roster and we, for the most part, have to roll out a similar lineup each and every game. So not an ideal situation, but that’s where we’re at right now.”
Until then, maybe the biggest takeaway of the night for a Mustangs team struggling to repeat a historic 2014 playoff run came from the starter who struggled to get past just one inning of work.
“This game is about failures and successes,” Bernstein said. “But I think that the biggest thing is just bouncing back and knowing that if you’ve done it before, you can do it again.”
The Mustangs play a three-game nonconference series against former Big West Conference rival Pacific (0-11) Friday through Sunday in Stockton.