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If you needed a refresher course on the formula to winning baseball games, Friday night was just that.
Unfortunately for the Cal Poly baseball team, who dropped its 2015 home opener 10-4 against Grand Canyon, it was a lack of the two most important pieces of baseball — pitching and defense — that gave 2,108 Baggett Stadium attendees a reminder of how baseball games are lost.
“Three things that we talk about: Make routine plays on defense, throw strikes as a pitcher and put the ball in play with two strikes as a hitter,” head coach Larry Lee said after the game. “We’re basically just doing the hitting side of it. (Grand Canyon) didn’t beat themselves and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Charged with the loss was junior right-hander Casey Bloomquist (0-1), who allowed seven runs, four of them earned, and gave up eight hits in 6 2/3 innings to go along with his nine strikeouts and two walks.
For the Antelopes, Andrew Naderer (2-0) gave up four runs (three earned) and seven hits in 5 innings for the win and had two walks and six strikeouts.
Despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second thanks to a single by junior shortstop Peter Van Gansen and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch from designated hitter Brett Barbier, things unravelled for the Mustangs when the Antelopes answered with a four-run fifth.
The Antelopes’ big inning was highlighted by a two-run single by shortstop Paul Panaccione’s and extended by one of Cal Poly’s three defensive errors on the night.
“It’s obviously not something we want,” senior outfielder Zack Zehner said of the team’s performance. “We’re a much better team than this, we have great pieces all over the field we just need to work together as a team a little better. We need to learn how to deal with the adversity a little bit more.”
That adversity came in a few more forms than just the fifth-inning rally that would put them behind in the game for good.
Following Bloomquist’s departure in the seventh, Lee was forced to send six different pitchers to the mound as several relievers struggled to find the strike zone against a patient Grand Canyon lineup.
To further bleaken the night, though, the game’s most devastating loss came when junior first baseman Brian Mundell was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning after pulling up lame running out a ground ball.
Probably a hamstring issue, Mundell, pending examination, is likely headed for an extended absence from play.
“The options are almost nonexistent,” Lee said of Mundell’s potential replacements. “It just puts us in a pretty weakened state. We thought we could eventually become a decent defensive team once we got everybody back but we’re a ways from that.”
If there’s been any bright spot in the season so far, it’s been the offense. The Mustangs have yet to be outhit by an opponent, and Friday night was no different as the offense pieced together 10 hits to Grand Canyon’s nine.
Among the 10 hits were a double by sophomore outfielder Kevin Morgan and a pair of singles each for Mundell and Zehner, who also drew a base on balls and scored two runs on the night.
“We score a lot I think it’s more of an approach we’ve committed to,” Zehner said. “If we have everyone in on the game plan trying to do the same thing and we just execute the small things on offense more guys probably score. We just got to keep doing the little things.”
In a start that featured good command of the strike zone and left several Antelopes hitters behind on pitches, Bloomquist also gave the Mustangs moments to cheer. His nine strikeouts and two walks kept the Mustangs well within reach of the undefeated Antelopes.
Thus far in the season, however, confidence among hitter and front-end starters has yet to translate into an overall self-assured brand of play from Cal Poly.
Though the season is still a long, long way from being over, the now shows a team very much in flux both mentally and physically.
“Not a very good baseball team right now,” Lee said. “We struggle playing defense we struggle throwing strikes certain parts of the pitching staff there’s some glaring weaknesses right now. We’re searching for answers.”
The Mustangs will have two more games to try and build off of Friday’s opener. Their next opportunity comes Saturday, again at 6 p.m., where Cal Poly will send freshman southpaw Kyle Smith to face Grand Canyon’s senior right-hander Coley Bruns.
“This game’s crazy,” Zehner reminded. “”Something happens and you win one game and boom you catch fire. I think we just need to get a little more swag almost we need to be a little more confident in ourselves and just take care of the baseball.”