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In last year’s NCAA regional, No. 4 seed Sacramento State came into San Luis Obispo with a chip on its shoulder. The visiting Hornets would drop two tight games to Cal Poly by a total of three runs and sneak a win against the nationally ranked Arizona State. While 2015 is a new season with new players on both sides, the Mustangs knew they had their hands full trying to beat a scrappy Sacramento State team.
And just like their two matchups last postseason, the Mustangs were again victorious in the series opener on Thursday. Cal Poly (5-9) took the first of four games against Sac State (8-7) with a final score of 6-2. Strong pitching and key extra base hits proved to be the difference in a game that lasted a shade over two hours.
Sacramento State jumped to an early one-run lead in the top half of the first inning. Cal Poly quickly came back with a run of its own after a single by the Big West Conference’s leader in batting average, shortstop Peter Van Gansen, scored a speedy junior second baseman Mark Mathias. Not long after, an RBI double by Mathias gave the Mustangs a 2-1 lead in the third inning. Van Gansen continued his dominance by leading off the bottom of the fourth inning with a long triple to the wall in right-center field. Junior outfielder Zach Zehner one-upped Van Gansen by sending one over the wall in right field, giving Cal Poly the 4-1 advantage in the fourth inning.
Cal Poly freshman starter Andrew Bernstein impressed yet again on the mound. The right-hander was nearly unflappable, giving up only two runs in his 6 1/3 innings of work. He found himself in a little bit of a bind with two runners on in the seventh inning, at which point the coaching staff opted to put in reliever Danny Zandona.
The senior right-hander would go for the rest of the game, allowing only one hit and striking out five on his way to collecting his second save on the year.
“He is incredible. He is the No. 1 guy I want out there,” Bernstein said of Zandona’s lights-out performance.
Bernstein (3-1) now has the most wins and the lowest ERA of anyone in the Mustangs’ starting rotation. After going 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI, Van Gansen is now hitting an alarming .450 in 14 games this year. Mathias has proved that he has fully healed, at least on the offensive side of things. Through his first seven games back, the junior is hitting .452 with 11 runs. Keep in mind the sample size for this young season so far.
“Baseball is a very mental game,” head coach Larry Lee said. “We haven’t responded very well in that portion of the game. That’s where we need to get better. But we are starting to see signs that we are getting better.”
Cal Poly hosts Sacramento State Friday at 6 p.m.