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The highly anticipated baseball edition of the Blue-Green Rivalry saw No. 13 UC Santa Barbara (20-5, 2-2 Big West) defeat No. 5 Cal Poly (24-5, 3-1 Big West) by a scoreline of 8-6 in the first game of a three-game series at Baggett Stadium on Friday night.
A pitcher’s duel seemed to be in the making between Cal Poly’s junior lefty Matt Imhof and UC Santa Barbara’s Austin Pettibone after each player forced the opposing offense into a three quick outs in the first inning.
But the wind picked up in the second inning, making things easier for hitters.
“The wind played a huge role in this game,” senior catcher Chris Hoo said. “It’s nice hitting the ball in the wind, knowing the wind is going to take it.”
That wind pushed two consecutive UC Santa Barbara home runs over the fence an in the third inning, giving the Gauchos a five-run lead.
But Hoo’s first home run of the season couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Down 7-2 in the fourth inning, he crushed a ball beyond the left field fence to bring the Mustangs within two.
Clutch hitting is nothing new to the catcher, who is the man the Mustangs look to for stability on the offensive end and behind the plate, said head coach Larry Lee.
“He’s the best defensive catcher on the west coast, and he’s been great offensively for us,” Lee said. “He’s probably our most clutch hitter. He’s done it all season.”
Hoo batted 3 for 4 on Friday while throwing out one runner on the basepaths. He now boasts a season average of .307 with 25 RBIs.
Hoo is quickly gaining the support of the Cal Poly faithful, who applauded the catcher in each arrival to the plate with a united “HOO.” However, at the national level, his position is similar to that of an offensive lineman in football — a player who often flies under the radar, he said.
“The team knows who’s doing their job defensively and offensively,” Hoo said. “It doesnt matter if I get any praise or not. It’s almost like the left tackle in football. I just do my job and try to do anything I can to help the team.”
Ultimately, Hoo’s offensive production was still not enough to earn the victory. Imhof (6-2) struggled early in the contest with six earned runs in just 3 ⅓ innings pitched.
However, the rare struggles should be looked at as just that, said Lee.
“He didn’t quite have it today,” Lee said. “He’s been solid all season. He’ll be ready once he takes the mound again.”
Lee’s optimistic look seems to be rubbing off on the players, as Imhof himself sees his performance through a similar light.
“I’ll be alright,” Imhof said. “Every start is a new start. Every day is a new day. I don’t think it’s going to affect me too much. It’s just one of those things where I’m disappointed I didn’t have a good enough performance to get the W today.”
Though the Mustangs earned their fifth loss of the season, positives were extracted from the defeat.
Cal Poly had 12 hits on the night and the trifecta of relievers Bryan Granger, Taylor Chris and Nick Suniga allowed just one run in 5 ⅔ innings.
“We want to win the Big West,” Hoo said. “We want to win everything. We have to come out and compete everyday. Our main goal is to pretty much win every ball game and get a regional berth.”
The team’s ambition is derived from the coach himself.
“It’s one thing getting there and another trying to stay there,” Lee said. “Up until this point we’ve done well, but we’ve got our work cut out for us. There is a lot of baseball left.”