The Cal Poly baseball team returned home following an eight-game road trip looking to even their conference record and build some much needed momentum. They did just that with an exciting 4-3 walk-off victory over the visiting Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara which sent the crowd of 1,225 fans at Baggett Stadium home happy Friday night.
Left fielder Luke Yoder drove in third baseman Evan Busby from second base with nobody out in the bottom of the tenth with a line-drive single into left center. The Mustangs (9-19, 2-2 Big West) poured out of the dugout to swarm Yoder — who led the Mustangs with two hits and two RBIs on the night. The win went to Jeff Johnson who pitched 3 1/3 innings and struck out seven for his second victory on the season.
Johnson said he was concentrating on throwing strikes and attacking the hitters when he came in.
“It just comes down to getting ahead of guys when you’re coming out of the pen,” Johnson said. “Then, I can continue to use all three of my pitches and keep them off balance.”
The Mustangs appeared to have the game won in the top of the ninth as Johnson, who relieved starting pitcher Matt Leonard, faced center fielder Gunnar Terhune with runners at first and second with two outs. However, Terhune hit a bouncing ball up the middle that just sneaked under the glove of second baseman Matt Jensen and into center field to tie the game at three.
The Mustangs had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth after a lead-off double by designated hitter D.J. Gentile. After being sacrificed to third, the Mustangs were unable to execute a squeeze play with pinch hitter Jordan Hadlock at the plate and Gentile was tagged out. Hadlock then struck out and the game went into extra innings.
Yoder said the Mustangs needed to win the game after being just one out away from victory in the ninth.
“It starts out the series with a great feel of confidence for us,” Yoder said. “It definitely would have been a heart-breaker to lose that game.”
The Gauchos (12-12, 0-1 Big West) were able to out-hit the Mustangs on the night 10 to seven, but Leonard was able to minimize any potential big innings from occurring. The Gauchos had four players record two hits on the night including Terhune, second baseman Sean Williams, catcher Marty Mullins and first baseman Trevor Whyte. First baseman Ross Brayton had two hits for the Mustangs — who were held in check for the most part by starting pitcher Mario Hollands of UC Santa Barbara.
The Mustangs struck first in the bottom half of the first inning with two runs. Sophomore Bobby Crocker was hit by a pitch with one out and came all the way around to score on a double down the right field line by Jensen. With two outs, right fielder Mitch Haniger came through with a single through the right side to score Jensen. Haniger was replaced by Adam Melker after the inning with a lower back injury and head coach Larry Lee said he will likely be out for the rest of the series. Lee said Haniger has been battling back issues for the past two to three weeks.
The Gauchos responded in the top half of the second inning. It appeared that starting Leonard would cruise through the inning after retiring the first two batters, but Mullins belted a solo home run to left-center field to close the gap to 2-1. It was the fourth home run on the year for Mullins.
Both pitchers settled in during the third and fourth innings as neither team scored in either frame. However, UC Santa Barbara tied the game in the top of fifth. The Gauchos led off the inning with consecutive singles to place Leonard in a jam. Following a failed bunt attempt which resulted in the first out, Terhune doubled high off the left field wall to tie the game at two. Leonard was able to escape the inning with no further damage as he retired the next two batters to strand runners at second and third.
The Mustangs responded with a run of their own in the bottom half of the fifth. Shortstop J.J. Thompson drew a lead-off walk to begin the frame. He advanced to third on an error by Whyte while stealing second base. Yoder then drove home Thompson with a triple off the left field wall and put the Mustangs back on top 3-2.
Leonard was strong again on the mound for the Mustangs as he pitched 6 2/3 innings allowing two runs and only one earned run. He threw 116 pitches on the night and struck out four. Lee said Leonard has been pitching solidly for the Mustangs recently and has fallen on some tough luck since Leonard is yet to record a victory on the season.
“He’s had three straight quality outings and we need to find a way to get him a win,” Lee said. ” He’s deserved a win in his past three starts.”
The Mustangs are looking to string together some victories in conference play to turn around their season. Lee said he wants his team to focus on conference play and remain competitive throughout the rest of the season.
“Hopefully, tonight will give us some life and we’re just playing to continue to stay in the Big West race,” Lee said. “Each upcoming conference series is going to be more important for us to stay up towards the top of the standings.
Yoder said the pitching has been phenomenal lately and the offense needs to step up and produce some runs in support of the pitchers.
“It’s going to be getting done on the mound so I think it’s more so on the offense,” Yoder said. “We need to put something on our shoulders and really try and continue the momentum that we generated towards the end of the game.”
The Mustangs continue their series with the Gauchos tomorrow at Baggett Stadium at 6 p.m as D.J. Mauldin will get the start for the Mustangs who look to win a series for the first time all year.