It hasn’t been much of a surprise that defending PAC 7 baseball champion San Luis Obispo High has looked like the league’s early favorite so far this year.
How the league as a whole will take shape, though, is anyone’s guess.
Beneath the first-place Tigers, who started 3-0 in PAC 7 play, only a game-and-a-half separated the second- and fifth-place teams after the first week-and-a-half. Two hopefuls amongst that bunch met Friday, with Paso Robles topping Nipomo 10-2 at Barnhart Field to sweep a three-game series. Despite that lopsided end result, though, the Titans trailed 3-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.
“To be able to answer back after they made it a 3-2 ballgame was huge for us,” Paso Robles coach Derek Stroud said. “The score doesn’t really indicate how close that game was.
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“San Luis is obviously undefeated right now, and rightfully so. We’re going to have to fight like heck. I don’t think there’s much difference between two through seven in our league. Who can play consistently is going to determine who gets in those slots.”
Paso Robles (7-4, 4-2) scored first in the third inning when Angel Gonzalez drove in Mac Stuart with a one-out single, Scott Plescia brought in Gonzalez on a fielder’s choice and Thomas Bernal came home on an Austin Swank bunt to make it 3-0, chasing Nipomo starter Ben Kennedy.
The Titans (5-5, 2-4) closed the gap in the top of the fifth when a Joe Gutshall single scored Mark Baker and Sean Shurtleff. Although Nipomo loaded the bases with two outs soon after, Stuart — on the heels of pitching five innings Wednesday — was able to strike out Cole Holloway with his final pitch of the day to retire the side and preserve the lead.
“He made three good pitches with a runner at third base to get out of that,” Stroud said. “That really was a great performance.”
Stuart earned the win, striking out four batters, walking four and scattering four hits in five innings. Bernal went the rest of the way on the mound, striking out two and yielding one hit in the final two innings.
“He’s been pitching great,” Bernal said of Stuart. “It’s easy pitching with a lead. You just kind of throw it in there and trust the guys behind you.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Paso Robles’ Matt Culp hit a two-run triple down the left-field line to drive in Plescia and Swank before later scoring on a passed ball for a 6-2 advantage. An inning later, Plescia singled to score Cody Krijakin, Swank doubled to drive in Plescia and Jason Brown blasted a two-run homer over the left-field wall to round out the scoring.
“The whole series, the offense came through,” said Bernal, a four-year varsity player who entered the game leading the league in on-base percentage at .622.
Swank finished a game-best 4 for 4 with two RBI, while Gonzalez and Bernal each added 2-for-3 showings with a walk apiece. Gutshall was a team-best 2 for 3 for Nipomo.
Kennedy gave up five hits, striking out one batter and walking three in 22⁄3 innings. Titans reliever Robbie Cruz surrendered seven runs on seven hits in the ensuing three innings.
The Titans, a relatively young squad, have no shortage of talent, particularly in shortstop Jeff McNeil, a Cal State Northridge signee, and Ryan McNeil, who came into Friday batting a PAC 7-best .550. They got off to a 5-1 start, claiming a series against Righetti 2-1 but have now lost four in a row.
“Sometimes we play like we have talent, and sometimes we play like we’re very young,” first-year Nipomo coach John Stevens said. “It’s a learning process. Hopefully we grow into our talent.”
Nipomo will next head to the Atascadero Tournament from Monday through Wednesday, while the Bearcats will travel to the John F. Kennedy Tournament in La Palma, where they’ll look to test their pitching depth, Stroud said.
“I thought offensively we had a good week,” he said, “(although) we kind of went through the series with just two pitchers, and I know we’re going to need to use some more.”
Last year, San Luis Obispo (4-3-1, 3-0) claimed the league championship by going 15-3, and only two victories separated the runner-up from the fifth-place member.
“I think we’re all about the same,” Stevens said of the rest of the PAC 7. “I think everybody has a good shot.”
The Tigers were idle Friday.
“SLO’s always a good team,” Bernal said. “I haven’t really seen anyone (else in the league) play yet, so it’s hard to say, but I like our chances.”
Arroyo Grande 22, Righetti 12
The host Eagles picked up their first win in league play, improving to 4-4 overall and 1-2 in the PAC 7. Righetti fell to 5-4-1 and 3-3.
No other information was provided.
Coast Union 7, Laton 4
Alex Wolf had two hits and an RBI for the Broncos (3-6).
Sophomore Andy Gordon, pitching for the first time this season, went the distance, striking out five.
Laton 11, Coast Union 1
Jasmine Bucio and Alex Scrivner had two hits apiece for Coast Union (1-8).
Watsonville 3, Mission Prep 1
The Royals (4-7) lost 20-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-16 at home Thursday.
Tribune staff contributed to this report.