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A week removed from seeing a six-run lead vanish at Pepperdine, the Cal Poly baseball team looked anything but distant as four pitchers and a dialed-in offense lifted the Mustangs to a 9-1 over Pepperdine Wednesday night.
Their rematch of a loss suffered on March 31 was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed due to rain. Cal Poly came out firing in the second leg of its non-conference home-and-home series at Baggett Stadium.
“We rarely play well against Pepperdine,” head coach Larry Lee said after the win. “The earlier game last Tuesday we were able to swing the bat well but gave it right back to them, so tonight’s big. They’re kind of in a situation like us where we both know that we have to win our conference for postseason consideration.”
Lee saw a sterling effort from freshman pitcher Jarred Zill, who allowed just one run on two hits while striking out six and walking five in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Zill, who now sports a 1.42 ERA, was making just the second start of his career.
“I was really nervous before my first start,” he said after the game, “But to be honest I just felt solid tonight, like it was any other game I’ve pitched in high school or little league.
The one run allowed by Zill came after the first batter he faced, Pepperdine’s Chris Fornaci, got a hold of a pitch up in the zone and hammered it over the right field wall. After that, however, the Waves wouldn’t score again.
“Sometimes that happens,” Lee said of the leadoff home run. “Sometimes a team scores right away but sometimes that’s all they get. And a positive that you can take from a game like that — especially when a freshman is pitching — it’s valuable experience for him where if he gets in that situation in the future he knows he’s already been through it and came out on the good side of it.”
Not to be outdone by Zill’s dominant outing for the Mustangs was the Cal Poly offense, which answered back quickly following the Fornaci home run with a run of their own in the bottom of the first. Senior left fielder Zack Zehner singled home junior shortstop Peter Van Gansen to even the score at one.
Then, in the second, after a walk to sophomore catcher Brett Barbier put runners on first and third, an RBI groundout from senior third baseman Tommy Pluschkell put the Mustangs ahead 2-1. Barbier came home to score three batters later off a sacrifice fly from junior second baseman Mark Mathias to give the Mustangs a 3-1 lead.
“More guys are starting to swing the bat at the plate helping us offensively to put runs on the board and our defense is coming through,” Barbier said. “All of it is helping our pitching staff and taking pressure off them so a win like this against a team like this that beat us last week is definitely good for everyone.”
After a scoreless third inning, a hit by pitch from senior center fielder Jordan Ellis took Waves reliever Kiko Garcia out of the game and set up a two-RBI double from junior first baseman Ryan Drobny three batters later.
The Mustangs finished the inning getting two more runs thanks to an RBI single from Mathias and an RBI groundout from Van Gansen to give Poly a commanding 7-1 lead.
“It helps to know the offense has your back,” Zill said of the offensive outburst. “After the first home run we got the runs back and then I throw up a zero, they throw up more runs and we went from there.”
Mathias finished going 1-for-2 with a single, two walks and two RBIs to contribute to an upper-third of the lineup that, along with Van Gansen and junior designated hitter Brian Mundell, produced six walks, three RBIs and three runs.
Junior right fielder John Schuknecht hit an RBI sacrific fly in the sixth and Barbier scored in the seventh to give the Mustangs their final 9-1 tally.
“This is probably the best offensive lineup that we can roll out there,” Lee said. “At this point everyone knows their roles and knows they’re getting enough at-bats that hopefully their better days are ahead of them and they feel comfortable.”
Freshman Michael Gomez threw 1 2/3 innings of relief before sophomore Justin Calomeni and senior Taylor Chris pitched the eighth and ninth, respectively, combining for a total four-hit performance for the Mustangs. Cal Poly also played error-free baseball for the second time in the last five games.
“Every guy on the team has just been trying to get their nose on the ball lately,” Barbier said of the improved defensive play. “We know we can get the outs and we have full faith in them and the pitchers do too, so it’s good to see them all work together.”
Pepperdine pitcher Max Green, who came in for starter Mat Snider after just one inning of work, was charged with the loss as Zill earned his first NCAA win.
The Mustangs’ next test will come Friday at 6 p.m. when the team opens its home conference schedule against Hawaii in a three-game series at home.