All Tommy Pluschkell was trying to do was bunt two runners into scoring position in a tight ballgame.
The Cal Poly senior third baseman’s sacrifice squeeze was placed so well he reached to load the bases and set the stage for a four-run fourth inning.
It was that kind of night for the Mustangs in a season where “that kind of night” has normally been reserved for the opposite kind of game.
Cal Poly feasted on inexperienced pitching while its own freshman shrugged off a leadoff home run to put forth a much-needed quality start, and the Mustangs beat visiting Pepperdine 9-1 on Wednesday at Baggett Stadium.
“We’re just trying to grind it through,” said catcher Brett Barbier, who was 2 for 3 and scored three times. “I know it’s halfway through the season, but everyone’s just trying to get through it and find their spot, especially on the mound.
“A win like this against a good team like this — who kind of spanked us last time around — is definitely good for the team.”
Freshman right-hander Jarred Zill, making his second career start, threw 51⁄3 innings of two-hit ball with five walks and six strikeouts — the type of outing the Mustangs (11-18) had been searching for behind Casey Bloomquist and Kyle Smith.
“For a guy who hasn’t pitched in a pretty long time, he came out and threw well,” said Barbier, who called for a lot of offspeed pitches when it was clear Zill’s changeup was working. “He gave us five solid innings and got outs for us, which is all we could have asked from him.”
Zill improved to 1-1 on the year with a 1.42 ERA and, after throwing only 71⁄3 innings all year before Wednesday, made it into the sixth inning before consecutive walks ended his night.
“I was really nervous before my first start,” the Laguna Niguel native said. “But to be honest, tonight I felt solid. It felt like any other game I pitched growing up in high school or little league. I felt pretty dialed.”
Mark Mathias drove in two runs and scored another, Zack Zehner recorded his team-best 27th RBI in the first inning, and the bottom third of the lineup collected five runs and four hits, including a two-run double down the left-field line from No. 9 hitter Ryan Drobny after Pluschkell’s bunt single.
“Now this deep into the season, everyone knows their roles and what’s expected of them,” head coach Larry Lee said. “They are getting enough at-bats that, hopefully, their better days are ahead of them.”
Pepperdine was playing at Baggett Stadium for the first time since winning last season’s NCAA Regional hosted by the Mustangs.
The win snapped a trio of losing streaks: two straight, three to the Titans (17-17), and four consecutive midweek games.
After going 9-1 in such contests last year — the loss was to Pepperdine — Cal Poly improved to 3-3 this season in one-game series, earning its first since a 13-2 home win over CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 24.
It didn’t look to be headed that way early on, as Pepperdine leadoff hitter Chris Fornaci — whose previous at-bat against the Mustangs was a walk-off homer last week — sent a 2-1 pitch over the left-field fence.
“As soon as the guy finished rounding the bases, I was already over it by that point,” Zill said. “I was like, ‘Alright, 0-0 ballgame. I’ve just got to attack.’ ”
Zill settled down from there, allowing just one more hit, and the offense took care of the rest. Zehner tied the game by singling home Peter Van Gansen in the bottom of the frame before a Waves error and a sacrifice fly from Mathias made it 3-1 through two.
Zehner finished 3 for 4. Mathias, Van Gansen and Brian Mundell each drew two walks, and Jordan Ellis scored twice. Cal Poly didn’t make an error while Pepperdine, which used a total of seven pitchers in the game with Max Green (0-1) taking the loss, committed three.
Freshman reliever Michael Gomez inherited two runners from Zill but threw 12⁄3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts, and Justin Calomeni — who let a 6-0 lead slip away in last week’s loss in Malibu — teamed with Taylor Chris to close it out.
Lee said after the game that Calomeni (1-3, 5.84 ERA) will start Sunday’s series finale against Hawaii.
“We were either going to throw a sim game tomorrow or give him an inning tonight,” Lee said. “We saw enough from him to give him another shot at Sunday.”