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Pepperdine players dogpiled on the mound after the final out of their elimination game against Cal Poly on Sunday night knowing they had advanced to the next round of the NCAA Tournament. It took a few fortunate bounces and clutch hitting to get there.
Cal Poly made a stirring comeback, tying the game at six runs apiece in the bottom of the eighth inning after falling into a 5-0 hole early on. But in the top of the ninth, with the bases loaded and no outs, Waves’ right fielder Bryan Langlois rifled a bases-clearing triple to blow the game open and help Pepperdine top Cal Poly 10-6 in the San Luis Obispo Regional.
In the ninth, Pepperdine got runners on when shortstop Manny Jefferson reached on a swinging-bunt single. Left fielder Brandon Caruso followed with a bunt no Cal Poly infielders could get to and third baseman Austin Davidson reached after his grounder bounced over senior third baseman Jimmy Allen’s head.
“Up until that hit, I felt I was going to strike the next three guys out, everyone was going to be fired up and we were going to walk off on them and leave them on the field,” junior reliever Taylor Chris said. “That hit happened. It’s baseball.”
Cal Poly threatened in the bottom half of the frame, but had no answer for the outburst.
The top-seeded Mustangs (47-12) defeated Sacramento State earlier in the day and advanced to the night game against Pepperdine. However, their second loss in as many days to the Waves ended their season. Pepperdine (42-16) advanced to the Super Regional round and will head to Fort Worth, Texas to face TCU next weekend.
The Waves drew first blood in the second inning when junior starting pitcher Danny Zandona loaded the bases on a trio of two-out hits and walked in Pepperdine’s No. 9 hitter. The Waves followed with two more base hits, jumping to a 5-0 lead that prompted Zandona’s departure from the game. The junior fired 53 pitches in 1 2/3 innings.
Then, Cal Poly started to chip away.
In the third inning, the Mustangs notched two consecutive singles and moved both runners over on a well-executed sacrifice bunt from senior outfielder Tim Wise. Junior right fielder Nick Torres followed with a sacrifice fly, putting Cal Poly on the board for the first time all night.
Allen and Torres each connected on solo home runs to help cut the deficit late in the game.
Cal Poly tied things up in the eighth inning when back-to-back hits from junior left fielder Zack Zehner and Allen brought senior catcher Chris Hoo to the plate with no outs. After a Pepperdine pitching change, Hoo laid down Cal Poly’s third sacrifice bunt of the game and sophomore shortstop Peter Van Gansen connected on a base hit, bringing Zehner around to score.
Sophomore first baseman John Schuknecht beat out a fielder’s choice throw to first that allowed to cross the plate and tie the game.
Chris pitched a career-high 6 2/3 innings and allowed five earned runs on five hits. Just one of the runs came before the ninth inning.
“The loss, it just rips your heart out,” head coach Larry Lee said. “But, you’d rather go through that experience than not experience. When you play high stakes, there’s going to be a loser.”
Cal Poly finished the year with a school record for victories and hosted its first-ever regional.
“It was definitely a step in the right direction for the program,” Schuknecht said. “It’s another recruiting tool, I mean, its good for the community. Next year we’re gonna grow off it and continue to grow as a program.”
Jacob Lauing contributed to this report.