Entering their final series of the season, the Cal Poly baseball team has been playing their best baseball of the entire season. The Mustangs continued the trend at Baggett Stadium on Friday night as they utilized a strong pitching effort and an explosive offensive attack to defeat the Roadrunners of Cal State Bakersfield 12-3 in dominating fashion.
Head coach Larry Lee said the team has stepped up their play during the last month of the season.
“We’re just playing with a different level of confidence and we are playing quality baseball right now and doing a lot of things well,” Lee said.
Cal Poly (22-31, 10-14 Big West) pounded out 16 hits on the night and were led by senior center fielder Adam Melker who had his third career four-hit night along with four RBIs. Fellow senior Luke Yoder added three hits and three RBIs for the Mustangs. Right fielder Bobby Crocker, catcher Jordan Hadlock and third baseman Evan Busby each had two hits on the night.
Melker said he wanted to take advantage of every opportunity in his last three games in a Mustangs uniform.
“These are my last three games and I just told myself that I wasn’t going to give in and I wasn’t going to waste any pitches in my at-bats or any plays in the field,” Melker said. “That mindset and approach worked out well for me today.”
Bakersfield (25-29), in only their second season of competition, struggled to get anything going against Cal Poly starter Matt Leonard. Leonard (2-7) pitched eight innings, allowing only three runs on seven hits while striking out three. He won his second straight start after failing to record a victory in his first 13 starts.
Leonard said everything was working for him tonight which allowed him to be so effective.
“Pounding the strike zone worked the best and I was able to force early contact,” Leonard said. “I was able to keep my pitch count low which let me stay late in the game and I think it was just throwing strikes that was doing the trick.”
The Mustangs greeted the visiting Roadrunners with two runs in the bottom of the first. Yoder led off the inning with a single into left on the first pitch he saw. He came home on a slicing double down the left-field line by Melker. It was the 45th double of Melker’s career and extended his hitting streak to 12 games. After a bunt single by Crocker put runners at first and third, first baseman David Van Ostrand hit into a fielder’s choice which drove in the second run of the inning.
Cal Poly continued their offensive attack with two more runs in the bottom of the second inning. The Mustangs began the inning with three straight singles by Hadlock, shortstop J.J. Thompson and Busby. Busby’s single drove in Hadlock from third for his 17th RBI on the season. After a sacrifice bunt from second baseman Denver Chavez moved runners to second and third with one out, Yoder hit an RBI groundout to third base which drove in another run and made the score 4-0 after two.
In the third, the Mustangs added one more run on a sacrifice fly to center field by designated hitter Mitch Haniger which scored Crocker, who doubled to left-center to begin the frame. With the sacrifice fly, Haniger drove in his 43rd run of the season which ties him with Crocker for the team lead.
The Mustangs barrage was relentless as they scored three more times in the bottom of the fourth to chase starter Mickey Jannis from the game. Busby led off the inning with a triple to right-center and came home on an RBI groundout to second by Chavez. Then, Yoder singled and stole second base. The next batter was Melker who singled to right to score Yoder who just beat the throw home by right-fielder J.J. Henry. The third run was driven in on the second RBI groundout of the game by Van Ostrand.
Jannis (4-5) finished the game pitching 3 1/3 innings allowing eight runs on 11 hits while striking out only one. He struggled as the Mustangs had the lead-off batter on in each of the four innings that Jannis pitched in and he ended up taking the loss on the night. Brandon Van Dam came on for Jannis to get the final two outs of the inning.
Following the offensive outburst and pitching early in the game, Lee said his team was able to put the game out of reach.
“Leonard set the tone and was really good at the early stages of the game,” Lee said. “Our offense was real productive and very team-oriented and scored in the first five innings and basically put the game away early.”
The early run support helped Leonard remain aggressive and he said it was a great feeling.
“It’s awesome and the best feeling especially on Friday’s nights because usually that’s one of their better pitchers,” Leonard said. “If you can score early it benefits us and keeps the momentum rolling and gets me pumped out there.”
The Roadrunners were finally able to get on the board against Leonard in the fifth inning. Henry hit a sacrifice fly to Crocker to score left fielder Kevin Younger who had singled to begin the inning.
The Mustangs responded with four more runs in the bottom of the fifth to continue to add on to their lead. With the bases loaded and one out, Yoder doubled down the left-field line, his 50th career double, to extend the lead to 10-1. Melker then singled up the middle scoring two more runs to make the score 12-1 at the end of the fifth inning.
Bakersfield scored two runs in the top of the eighth inning on back-to-back doubles from third baseman Martin Medina and first baseman Jason Kudlock to make the deficit nine runs at 12-3.
Kyle Anderson came on to get the final three outs in the ninth inning for the Mustangs.
With the win, Cal Poly improved to 12-4 in the month of May. In those games, the Mustangs are hitting .341 as opposed to .277 in their previous 36 games of the year. Melker said the team’s strong finish has been important after the early season struggles.
“There’s so many games in baseball and one of the things they stress is it’s not necessarily how you start, it’s how you finish,” Melker said. “We got down too early (this season) but to pick it up like this at the end is really good and just a great feeling.”
The Mustangs look to win their third consecutive series tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. as senior right-hander D.J. Mauldin will start for the Mustangs against freshman right-hander Juan Padilla for Cal State Bakersfield.
Lee said he wants his team to continue to play well in order to build some momentum for next season in their final two games.
“We’re just trying to win ball games and trying to set the tone for next year by teaching players how to win and how to play at a high level game-in and game-out,” Lee said.