The Cal Poly baseball team dropped its first game of the early season on Friday night at Baggett Stadium. Taking on familiar foe UCLA (2-3), Cal Poly came back from an early five-run deficit to tie the game in the fifth inning. The Mustangs stayed level with the Bruins for a brief period but lost any hopes of the lead late, falling to UCLA 7-6.
Cal Poly (4-1) added a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, but it was not enough to outlast the No. 14 team in the country. Sophomore starting pitcher Kyle Smith went for 6 2/3 innings of work, allowing five earned runs and collecting six strikeouts for the Mustangs. The lefty kept the game close even though he was the victim of a couple of crucial errors from the Cal Poly defense.
“It just kind of snowballed. Some balls that weren’t hit very hard got through and they were able to manufacture runs,” head coach Larry Lee said.
In the top of the third inning, UCLA capitalized on two fielding errors to bring home two unearned runs, a margin that ultimately proved to be the difference in the ball game. The Bruins were also effective in employing small ball tactics such as bunting and stealing bases to make the most out of their 11-hit offensive output.
The Mustangs mounted a comeback when they manufactured five runs of their own in the fifth inning. Leadoff hitter and freshman center fielder Alex McKenna stole second base and scored on a wild pitch to give Cal Poly its first run of the ballgame. Later on in the inning with one out and runners on the corners, John Schuknecht came to the plate with a chance to put the Mustangs within one.
The senior right fielder did just that with a three-run home run to left field, keeping many of the 2,471 fans (the most since the 2014 NCAA Regional at Baggett Stadium) in their seats for the remainder of the matchup. It was the first home run of the year for Schuknecht, who figures to take on a prominent role in this year’s offense.
“John has been with us for four years and gave us a big lift tonight with the home run and got us and the fans back in the game.” head coach Larry Lee said. “We lost a lot of impact players last year so he needs to be one of the nine guys that allow the lineup to flow.”
UCLA came back with two runs in the top of the seventh and Cal Poly was able to answer with a quick run of its own in the bottom half of the inning. But the Bruins were able to keep the score at 7-6 for the remainder of the game after an impressive performance by their battery of relievers.
Although the game didn’t go the Mustangs’ way, Lee has reason to be optimistic about his young team. The Mustangs have received significant contributions from some of their youngest players. McKenna is currently sporting a .375 batting average with two home runs in five games and freshman second baseman Kyle Marinconz is batting .389 after his three-hit outing on Friday night.
“They have done extremely well. Our better players are some of our young guys especially our freshman,” Lee said. “They are going to get a lot of experience and go through their ups and downs but they are our future and have earned the chance to be out there.”