The weather was chilly and fans were still filtering in Baggett Stadium when right-hander D.J. Mauldin threw the first pitch in the blue-green rivalry game between Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara.
Friday night was Cal Poly’s chance to win in dramatic fashion, Saturday was the Gauchos night. UC Santa Barbara (13-12, 1-1 Big West) manufactured a run in the top of the ninth inning that would prove to seal any hopes for the Mustangs (9-20, 2-3 Big West), besting Cal Poly 10-9.
“It was one of those nights when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted,” Mauldin said. “Walking guys in the first inning really set the tone for the game.”
UC Santa Barbara didn’t waste time at the plate and jumped to an early 6-0 lead. Center fielder Gunner Terhune led the game off with a single to left and second baseman Sean Williams walked. The next batter reached on fielder’s choice to load the bases with nobody out. First baseman Trevor Whyte looped a single into right, driving Terhune home as the Gauchos first run of the game.
The runs kept coming for the Gauchos.
Still nobody out, designated hitter Beck Wheeler sliced an 0-2 pitch over Cal Poly first baseman David Van Ostrand’s head. Two Gauchos cross the plate, putting the advantage at 3-0. After a visit from pitching coach Jason Kelly, right-fielder Matt Haddow hit a screamer to left, plating another Gaucho runner.
Batter after batter, Mauldin was throwing strikes and got ahead of UC Santa Barbara, but he couldn’t put the bats to rest.
“You know, they did a good job of protecting and got a couple of bloops,” Mauldin said.
After left fielder Ryan Tregoning hit a triple past Mustang right-fielder Bobby Crocker, plating two more base runners, the advantage grew to 6-0.
Six of the first nine UC Santa Barbara batters recorded hits and Mauldin threw 37 pitches before Terhune grounded out in his second at-bat of the inning.
Mauldin settled down after the first inning, as the Mustang offense answered back, scoring four runs in the bottom half of the second inning.
Catcher Jordan Hadlock singled to center to start things off. Then shortstop J.J. Thompson hit a line drive past the pitcher’s head off as his single bounced off second base, allowing Hadlock to move from first to third. Busby, who’s hitting .450 with runners in scoring position, lofted a 1-1 pitch into center for a sacrifice fly _ erasing the zero from the Mustangs run column.
With one out and runner on first, center fielder Adam Melker laid down a bunt. Two quick outs later, Crocker crushed a 1-0 pitch for an RBI double. Down by four, second baseman Matt Jensen laced a triple into left center, scoring Crocker and Jensen and closing UC Santa Barbra’s lead to two.
In the top of the third, UC Santa Barbra catcher Marty Mullins blooped a single past a diving Melker in center, and Crocker’s throw to third arrived late. Tregoning stepped up to the plate and hit a sacrifice fly to score the runner from third.
The game moved into the bottom of third inning with the Gauchos leading 7-4.
Hadlock drove a lead-off double into the left center gap, which was followed by an error, and the Mustangs scored on Melker’s one-hopper past the shortstop. After a fly out to right by left fielder Luke Yoder and an errant throw that bounced off the top of the Cal Poly dugout, the Mustangs closed within one. Crocker added a stand-up triple to right, hitting just short of the warning track, and the game moved into a 7-7 tie.
The Mustangs led the bottom of the fifth with a walk. With two outs, Crocker crushed a two-run homerun that hit the scoreboard in right field, giving the Mustangs their first lead of the night 9-7. At that point, Crocker needed just a single to hit for the cycle.
“That’s not what I focused on tonight,” Crocker said. “Defense is the most important part and we didn’t it tonight. Hopefully we can combine everything and win tomorrow.”
A wide throw to first in the top of the seventh sent Mauldin out of the game. He pitched 6 2/3 innings, throwing 130 pitches.
The Mustangs held the lead for two innings until the top of the eighth.
Relief pitcher Mark DeVincenzi walked the first two Gaucho batters and after a bunt to load the bases, shortstop Matt Valaika hit a single up the middle to plate two runners. The game was tied 9-9 going into the top of the ninth.
UC Santa Barbara started their half of the ninth with a walk and put the go-ahead runner at second with a sacrifice bunt. Bret Fick swung through three pitches, bringing Terhune to the plate with two outs. On a 3-2 count, Williams shot an RBI-single to center helping the Gauchos recapture a 10-9 lead.
Cal Poly couldn’t fire back. The Mustangs went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
“I thought Mauldin did a good job of allowing our offense to chip away after that first inning,” Head coach Larry Lee said. “I didn’t really say much to him after, he knew what he had to do.”
The Mustangs finish the series Sunday at Baggett Stadium with a rubber game against UC Santa Barbara.
“We’re coming out hot tomorrow,” UC Santa Barbara right fielder Ryan Tregoning said.