Jefferson P. Nolan
When Elliot Stewart steps to the plate, he never tries to hit a home run.
But as the catcher ground his back foot into the batters box in the bottom of the seventh inning against UC Riverside, the long ball came as an added bonus.
“I never think ‘home run’, but I definitely wanted to elevate something,” Stewart said. “I knew (the pitcher) was going to come with the changeup, and he just left it up.”
All it took was Stewart’s swing of the bat for Cal Poly (29-14, 9-7 Big West) to take a 4-1 lead against the Highlanders (18-23, 7-9 Big West) on Friday night — a lead they would keep until the end of the game.
But Stewart’s pinch-hit, three-run bomb to left field came only after a rally was generated by freshman designated hitter Brian Mundell.
Mundell began the bottom of the seventh inning with a home run of his own that tied the game at 1-1.
His solo shot gave the Cal Poly offense the jumpstart it needed as right fielder David Armendariz singled to left field. After first baseman John Schuknecht’s successful sacrifice bunt, a single to the right field by shortstop Peter Van Gansen put Stewart in a prime position at the plate.
The Mustangs entered the game on a three game losing streak, but against UC Riverside, Cal Poly tallied a total of 10 hits in comparison to the Highlanders’ five.
Hit streaks continued for center fielder Jordan Ellis (11 game) and Armendariz (8 game); each had two hits.
“My approach has gotten a lot better within those eight games,” Armendariz said. “My biggest thing was that I was chasing balls low way too much. When it comes to approaches, when you’re dialed in to your approach and your swing feels good, you’re going to get hits.”
But in a game ridden with fly ball after fly ball, it was starting pitcher Joey Wagman’s performance that kept the Mustangs in the game.
Pitching all nine innings, the senior right hander allowed only one run as he pitched his third complete game of the season.
“Getting the win tonight was great,” Wagman said. “Putting up a four-spot in the seventh inning kind of brought our team and the fans to life. My mindset is that it doesn’t matter whether the score is 0-0 or if we’re up 10-0. The nice thing as the pitcher is that you control everything. You have the ability to make every inning and every pitch just as meaningful as the one before.”
The Highlanders drew first blood in the third inning with a two-out RBI double to left-center field off the bat third baseman, Joe Chavez.
But while Cal Poly waited until the seventh inning to score, UC Riverside never crossed home plate again.
“(The players) know it’s time to take care of business,” head coach Larry Lee said. “We’re not playing to our capabilities. We need more production from the offensive standpoint.”
Armendariz and the baseball team know that sometimes, a single inning of heroics at the plate won’t be able to cut it.
“Two-out hits and two-out RBIs are huge in this game,” Armendariz said. “When you get those opportunities, you need to cash in. We want to be the first ones to score in the first inning and we want to tack on.”
And the baseball squad will attempt to get their bats going early in Saturday’s matchup as the Mustangs host the Highlanders for the second game of the Big West series. Sophomore Matt Imhoff will get the Saturday start at 6 o’clock as he attempts to clinch the series victory for Cal Poly.
“He’s got to pitch his gameplan,” Wagman said of his fellow pitcher. “We’re as confident with him out there as we can be. It’s good to win this one, but the goal is go out there tomorrow and take game two.”