Cal Poly first baseman John Schuknecht’s farthest hit of the night on Friday — a 350-foot strike just left of the foul pole in the sixth inning — did not register as his most important swing.
That came two innings earlier, and he sent it nearly as far.
The No. 9 hitter smoked a triple off the wall in left field to score Chris Hoo for what would prove to be the winning run in the Mustangs’ 4-2 victory over Sacramento State in the opening round of the San Luis Obispo Regional.
“Right now, I feel locked in,” the sophomore said. “I feel as good as I could at the plate right now.”
Schuknecht finished 2 for 3 from his spot in the bottom of the lineup; he singled in the third inning and scored both times he reached base.
The Palm Desert native has split time at first for the majority of the season with Ryan Drobny, who came on in the eighth as a defensive replacement. Friday marked the 20th start of the season for Schuknecht, who entered the contest hitting .254 with a .423 slugging percentage.
“I struggled for most of the season up until a few weeks ago,” said Schuknecht, who appeared in the final six games of the regular season and collected at least one hit in five of them. “I really was struggling at the plate, but coach (Larry) Lee gave me an opportunity, and I cashed in on it.”
In his first at-bat against the Hornets, Schuknecht led off the third with a sharp single to third. He came all the way around from first to score with ease when the next batter, leadoff hitter Mark Mathias, doubled to left center to increase the Mustangs’ lead to 2-0.
Schuknecht’s two-out triple in the fourth, on a 1-1 pitch from Hornets starter Sam Long, split the outfielders in left before smacking off the wall. He made it to third standing up, and scored Cal Poly’s final run of the game one batter later when Mathias legged out an infield single on a grounder to third.
Schuknecht nearly one-upped the fourth-inning performance in the sixth, launching a 2-0 offering from Long toward left field with Peter Van Gansen on first. The ball cleared the stadium with ease, but hooked just a few feet on the wrong side of the foul pole.
“I knew I hit it well, and I was really hoping it was going to stay fair,” said Schuknecht, who flew out to second base two pitches later. “But, oh well.”
Big day for Big West
Prior to the start of regional action, Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said he and the rest of the Big West coaches received a text message from Cal State Fullerton skipper Rick Vanderhook. “Let’s show them what the Big West is all about,” Lee approximated it said.
The conference went 4-0 on the opening day of the NCAA baseball playoffs, including a pair of upset victories.
“Usually you root against those teams,” Lee said of his conference mates. “But … I just got a kick out of going, ‘This is a pretty cool thing.’
“It’s a big sense of pride.”
Cal Poly took care of business at home with its 4-2 win in the San Luis Obispo Regional, and No. 2 Long Beach State took out third-seeded North Carolina, 6-1, in the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional.
Vanderhook’s Titans continued their strong end of the season with a 5-1 win over two-seed Nebraska in Stillwater, Okla. UC Irvine, which limped into the postseason as a three-seed, exploded for 10 runs in a 10-3 win over UNLV in the Corvallis (Ore.) Regional — the only other regional on the West Coast.
“As soon as Washington didn’t get a host site, I knew the West Coast was going to do some damage,” Lee said. “Because we like playing teams that aren’t from the West. We beat up on each other all the time out here.”
In total, West Coast teams went 8-4 in the first round – including top-ranked Oregon State’s late game at home against North Dakota State and Washington’s rainout against Georgia Tech in Oxford, Miss. Three of the four losses — UNLV, Sacramento State and Arizona State — came against other West Coast teams, with Irvine, Fullerton, Oregon, Stanford, Long Beach State, Cal Poly and Pepperdine picking up wins. San Diego State fell 5-2 to defending Super Regional champion Mississippi State, last year’ NCAA runners-up to UCLA, in the Lafayette (La.) Regional.
“Our practices are geared toward stopping the offenses that are out here,” Lee said. “So when we go elsewhere, we kind of let it loose, and (other teams) aren’t used to playing teams like Long Beach and Fullerton and Irvine.”
Reilly shuts the door on Sacramento State
Reed Reilly pitched the final 1 1⁄3 innings for Cal Poly to record his 11th save of the year. The junior right-hander threw 11 of his 15 pitches for strikes, and did not give up a hit or an earned run.
The first batter Reilly faced, Chris Lewis, reached on an error by third baseman Jimmy Allen, allowing an unearned run to score.
Reilly then got two batters to foul out and two more to ground out to end the game.
Cal Poly wins in efficient fashion
The Mustangs’ victory took just 2 hours, 12 minutes to complete, with Matt Imhof’s first pitch coming at 6:05 p.m. This marks the third-fastest game for Cal Poly this season.
The shortest game of the season was a 1-0 victory at home over UC Irvine on May 10, which took just 1:48. The Mustangs’ 3-0 home win over Fullerton on April 19 is the second-fastest at 1:54.