The Cal Poly baseball team did not want to drop back-to-back games after jumping out to early leads.
Utilizing strong starting pitching and a consistent offensive attack, the Mustangs earned their first victory of the young season Saturday night by defeating USC 10-6 at Baggett Stadium.
Sophomore right-hander Mason Radeke pitched six strong innings for Cal Poly (1-2) and recorded a career-high seven strikeouts. Pitching for the first time in six months, Radeke said it was good to get back out on the mound and help his team.
The Mustangs’ attack was led by senior first baseman Ross Brayton who went 3 for 4 on the night with three RBIs. Senior outfielder/designated hitter Luke Yoder and freshman outfielder Mitch Haniger hit solo home runs for the Mustangs, which were the first two of the season.
Redshirt freshman Evan Busby and sophomore Matt Jensen each contributed two hits for Cal Poly. The Mustangs outhit the Trojans 13-12 on the night. Head coach Larry Lee said he was pleased with his team’s efforts.
“It all starts with the starting pitching and Radeke was very good tonight,” Lee said. “Offensively, we were much better tonight and answered back when they scored.”
Beginning in the second inning, USC (2-1) loaded the bases with nobody out and a 2-0 count on Trojans catcher Luis Castillo. Following a mound visit from pitching coach Jason Kelly, Radeke responded by striking out three consecutive batters to end the inning. The crowd of 1,457 fans roared in applause for Radeke’s effort.
“I just needed to bear down after I lost focus a bit,” Radeke said. “It was a make or break situation and I just dug in deep and battled.”
The Mustangs responded by scoring the first run of the ball game in the bottom half of the second inning when Busby singled home first baseman Brayton from second. Yoder led-off the third inning with a solo home run to deep left center. Cal Poly added another run in the frame on Brayton’s RBI groundout to second which gave the Mustangs a 3-0 edge after three innings.
Radeke faced trouble again in the fourth inning following a lead-off walk and a double by Trojans third baseman Mike Hart. With runners on second and third and one out, Radeke came right after the hitters and recorded back-t0-back strikeouts to end the frame. He left the mound with an emphatic fist pump as his teammates streamed out of the dugout to congratulate him.
Cal Poly broke open the game when they chased Trojans starter Chad Smith in the fifth inning. Jensen drew a four pitch walk with one out and stole second base. Brayton singled home Jensen with a line drive up the middle. Smith was relieved by sophomore right-hander Ben Mount, who inherited two runners on base. Haniger singled home Brayton, but was thrown out trying to take second base. Busby added another run for Cal Poly with his second RBI single of the night, giving the Mustangs a 7-1 advantage after five innings.
In his final inning of work, Radeke battled through another tough inning. After surrendering a lead-off home run to right-fielder Alex Sherrod, Radeke gave up a double and hit a batter. Following a sacrifice bunt, he was able to strike out the next batter and retire the next man on a ground out to third. Radeke finished the night throwing 110 pitches.
“I just went straight after them with hard fastballs,” Radeke said. “I wasn’t scared at all and I kept thinking that my stuff was better than theirs.”
The Trojans closed the gap in the seventh, scoring three times off senior reliever D.J. Mauldin to make the score 7-5. The Mustangs responded with three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to seal the victory. Senior Mark DeVincenzi pitched the final innings to get the save for the Mustangs.
Yoder said it was good for the team to get the first win under their belts and get the feeling of what it takes to win every game. He said it was tremendous how the team kept adding runs following last night’s defeat.
“We actually responded this game unlike last game where we gave up seven unanswered runs,” Yoder said. “I think we responded pretty well tonight.”
The rubber match of the three game series takes place tomorrow morning at 11 in Baggett Stadium with sophomore left-hander Kyle Anderson taking the mound for the Mustangs against senior right-hander Kevin Couture for the Trojans.
Lee said the final game will come down to starting pitching again and wants to see his team come out with the same approach.
“It’s about pitching and defense,” Lee said. “Your offense is going to be on and off and you can never count on it since good pitching will stymie good hitting most of the time.”