[follow id = “harrychangmn”]
Senior outfielder Zack Zehner watched from the on-deck circle.
The Mustangs were unable to execute in the bottom of the 11th to break 3-3 a deadlock that lasted well into Saturday night at Baggett Stadium. He then jogged out to right field and watched senior reliever Taylor Chris escape a jam of his own to send the game into the bottom of the 12th and bring Zehner up to lead off.
“I thought about the upcoming at-bat a little bit in the outfield, and I just wanted to pick my teammates up,” Zehner said. “We needed this win so I just said whatever it takes to get it done.”
Get it done he did.
Zehner laced the first pitch he saw over the left-field wall for his sixth home run of the year. The 4-3 win is the Mustangs’ (19-20, 7-4 Big West Conference) ninth in their last 11 games.
“I wanted to be more aggressive that last at-bat,” Zehner said. “I was taking a lot of pitches early on while they’d been feeding me inside pitches, so I just saw my pitch and let it rip.”
Earlier in the evening, the Dirtbags (21-16, 7-6) jumped out to an early lead thanks to an Alex Bishop RBI groundout in the second inning off Mustangs freshman starting pitcher Kyle Smith.
In the third, Zehner recorded an RBI groundout of his own, plating junior second baseman Mark Mathias to tie things up at one apiece and give the Mustangs their first run off of touted Long Beach State freshman pitcher Chris Mathewson.
“He’s good,” head coach Larry Lee said of Mathewson, who came into Sunday’s game with a sub-1.40 ERA as the Dirtbags’ usual Sunday starter. “I think they think we’re suspect of how we play on Sundays, and they thought they needed this win, so they brought him in today.”
Both starters finished giving up three runs as Mathewson pitched into the seventh and Smith — who finished with nine hits, three walks and four strikeouts to bring his ERA down to 3.43 — was pulled in the sixth.
“He competes,” Lee said of his own starter. “He came out and shortened the game for us today and really allowed us to battle back.”
Neither pitcher factored into the decision, as freshman right-hander Michael Gomez came in to pitch the seventh and Chris finished the job with a five-inning effort after the Mustangs again tied things up in the bottom of the seventh.
With junior right fielder John Schuknecht on third base after a pickoff attempt to second base by the Dirtbags reliever sailed into center field, thereby allowing him to advance, Mathias took the next pitch back up the middle for an RBI single to tie things up.
The score stayed tied 3-3 until the 12th as Chris continued to retire Dirtbags hitters in the long-relief situation.
“I’m very comfortable (in that kind of scenario),” Chris said. “My job is just one out at a time, so until you tell me to stop and you shake my hand and take me out of the game it’s just ‘next batter.’”
Chris gave up just one hit and two walks while striking out five in his five innings of work but got into his biggest jam in the top of the 12th. In the inning, a leadoff walk and a single two batters later put runners on the corners with just one away when the defense convened at the pitcher’s mound.
Chris got Daniel Jackson to foul out to Schuknecht at first and then ousted Tristan Mercadel on a fielder’s choice to second base to end the threat and bring up Zehner for the walk-off home run.
“Great win. Now we got to get onto tomorrow, and we have an opportunity in front of us to keep our loss total at four,” Lee said.
The Mustangs will go for the sweep Sunday at 1 p.m. with sophomore right-hander Slater Lee (1-0, 3.72 ERA) of Cal Poly going against Long Beach State junior right-hander Tanner Brown (4-2, 2.18 ERA).