Two bad bounces hurt Mustangs in NCAA loss to Pepperdine

Cal Poly in elimination game today, must win three straight to advance to Super Regional

jscroggin@thetribunenews.comMay 31, 2014 

Now we see just how powerful head coach Larry Lee’s mantra might be with the Cal Poly baseball team.

After losing a heartbreaking 2-1 comeback to Pepperdine on Saturday, the Mustangs’ pitching staff will definitely be taxed if they manage to keep alive their chances of advancing to the first NCAA Super Regional in program history today.

But the true test will be to Cal Poly’s season-long motto of living in the moment, forgetting the past and winning every pitch.

The play that changed the complexion of Saturday’s game — a seventh-inning collision between Zach Zehner and Jordan Ellis in centerfield that opened the door for the Waves’ only runs of the game — recalled visions of Nick Torres losing a fly in the night sky in a pivotal game at the Los Angeles Regional last season.

Whereas that fateful drop against eventual national champion UCLA helped fuel Cal Poly through the offseason, the Mustangs must do their best to forget all about Saturday’s collision to focus on a 1 p.m. elimination rematch with Sacramento State. 

That was the postgame message anyway.

“You have to be able to flush and not be concerned about what happened,” Lee said. “The reality is we need to win three ballgames to get out of here, but we can’t think about (to)night at six. We have to think about (today) at 1.

“We just have to stay together. Nobody wins and loses individually. We win and lose as a team and have support for each other. We just need to stay confident.”

Zehner took credit for the miscommunication, which came when Waves catcher Aaron Barnett drove a ball hard to left center with one out in the seventh and Cal Poly nursing a 1-0 lead.

Both Zehner and Ellis tracked the ball a long way at full speed. Each called for it, and Ellis appeared to get a glove on the ball, but neither backed off, and the two collided face first.

“There was a lack of communication, actually,” Zehner said. “I called it first, and he came in second, but he’s the centerfielder, and it’s his ball. I didn’t get out of the way. We were both there, but he called it, and it’s his ball. I didn’t get out of the way.”

Pepperdine second baseman Hutton Moyer crushed the next pitch for a double off the top of the wall to score pinch-runner Jeremy Goldenetz, and two batters later, Moyer scored when shortstop Manny Jefferson blooped a hit behind first that Cal Poly first baseman John Schuknecht dropped trying to make an over-the-shoulder catch.

The Mustangs went down in order in both the eighth and the ninth, spoiling a complete game by Casey Bloomquist, who lost for just the second time this season.

Bloomquist (12-2) allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits and a walk. Though Cal Poly held just a one-run lead on a sac fly by Mark Mathias in the second inning, Bloomquist seemed untouchable before the outfield collision.

Not known as a fireballer, Bloomquist hit 90 mph on a scout’s radar gun early on, and he struck out seven batters in eight innings.

He lowered his season ERA to 1.56, and his only other loss of the season came at Long Beach State, where a first-inning error at first base helped allow the only run of the game to score.

The Waves did not face Bloomquist in two mid-week games this season, but Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez said the sophomore right-hander was much improved from the games they played against him as a freshman last season.

“He was pounding the zone,” Rodriguez said. “He threw a lot of strikes tonight. He really did. From his fastball to his change-up, he did a really nice job.

“His velocity has spiked, and his breaking ball was a little sharper. He just did an amazing job. When you see his record, you see his ERA, you see exactly why he’s out there.”

The Mustangs move on to today’s game against the Hornets, whom they beat 4-2 in a regional opener Friday night. Sacramento State eliminated Arizona State in a 5-4 victory earlier Saturday.

Cal Poly will have to beat the Hornets in the early game and win a rematch with Pepperdine in the late game to force a final game Monday for a chance to leave San Luis Obispo as regional champion.

Lee said freshman Justin Calomeni will draw the start, but even though the Mustangs have only needed their bullpen for 1 1⁄3 innings of the first two games, it’s questionable how well the rest of the staff looks needing to win three more games now that ace Matt Imhof and Bloomquist have taken their turns.

“Not great,” Lee said when asked about the shape of the pitching staff, “but I actually ran through some scenarios in my head that we’re going to have to use. We’ll throw Calomeni that first game, and hopefully we get a good outing from him.”

Calomeni was moved to the weekend rotation for the last four series of the regular season but went just 1-1 in that span. Overall, he is 8-2 with a 3.50 ERA, but he has pitched into the fifth inning in just one of his past four starts.

But, like the collision in the field and any of those abbreviated recent performances, Cal Poly will try like crazy not to let the past affect the next game.

“Just try to have a short memory, try not to think too much about it,” Bloomquist said. “Just look to the future because there’s not much you can do about the past.”

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