After sophomore pitchers Kyle Smith, Erich Uelmen and Jarred Zill were suspended for a violation of team rules for the Cal Poly baseball team’s (27-21, 8-8) weekend series against UC Irvine (27-20, 7-9), the Mustangs turned to redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher Spencer Howard (3-1) for his first career start Friday night. The Mustangs rallied behind Howard’s strong start with a 9-1 rout at Baggett Stadium.
“Wednesday night, coach sent me a text and told me I was starting Friday,” Howard said. “I didn’t do anything different. I just treated it like it was any other game.”
Howard’s approach worked brilliantly, as he only gave up one run on five hits, while striking out five batters and walking one over six innings. According to head coach Larry Lee, Howard was very efficient.
“He threw well,” Lee said. “He pounded the strike zone with his fastball and cutter, which was effective against their right-handed lineup.”
While the Anteaters were able to get runners on base, the Mustangs were able to pitch their way around them with the help of some solid defense. Cal Poly did not commit any errors, turned two double plays and caught two runners stealing. Freshman catcher Nick Meyer has now thrown out 20 baserunners on the season.
After slumping in recent weeks, the Mustangs were able to put it together at the plate as they posted their fourth-highest scoring game of the season. In his second game back from a leg injury that kept him out for three weeks, freshman left fielder Alex McKenna broke the 0-0 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning with a three-run home run, his sixth of the year.
McKenna was 2-4 with a double and a home run, and had five total RBIs on the day, a team high for the season. Senior right fielder John Schuknecht, junior first basemen Alec Smith and junior second basemen Brett Binning also each had an RBI for the Mustangs.
In the top of the seventh inning, Howard turned the ball over to junior right-handed pitcher Slater Lee, who did not surrender a run for the rest of the game. Lee had one strikeout and two walks while giving up four hits through three innings of relief.
Cal Poly continued to add to its lead late in the game, scoring five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning during a rally in which everyone in the Mustangs’ lineup batted once.
The much-needed win comes on the heels of a rough stretch for Mustangs, who have gone 1-8 over their last nine games. The victory also snaps a six-game conference losing streak for Cal Poly.
Freshman Craig Colen will make his first career start on Saturday when the Mustangs square off with the Anteaters for the second game of the three-game series at 6 p.m.
Before the first pitch Friday, Cal Poly and Dignity Health Central Coast announced a new partnership for the Baggett Stadium Enhancement Project. The project will consist of constructing a new, two-story clubhouse and expanding the seating capacity at Baggett Stadium to over 3,250. The new clubhouse will include locker, equipment and laundry rooms, as well as a mud room, coaches’ office and a study room.The $7.5 million project is scheduled to begin following the 2016 season, and is expected to be complete by fall 2017.