Starting his college career as a closer, Daniel Mengden faced a harsh midseason cancellation.
But he’s turning out to be a summer blockbuster.
Mengden came on with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning to hold on to a three-run lead for his sixth summer collegiate baseball save in the San Luis Obispo Blues’ 9-6 victory over the MLB Urban Youth Academy Barons on Saturday at SLO Stadium.
After trailing for most of the night, the first-place Blues (15-5, 10-3 California Collegiate League) took the lead with a seven-run rally in the eighth inning of a game that also featured a benches-clearing brouhaha in the fifth.
With the Barons threatening to take the lead right back in the ninth, on came Mengden, who racked up three saves as a freshman for Texas A&M this season before inconsistency led to a demotion to middle relief before a late-season renaissance as a starter.
“It was a little nerve racking,” Mengden said. “At first, I had little butterflies going. I ended up doing well the first couple chances, then I struggled a little bit, which I guess is kind of expected for a freshman. But I overcame it and ended up doing well.”
He finished his first season in College Station, Texas, with a 3-4 record and 3.83 ERA.
Armed with a fastball ranging from 90 to 94 mph, Mengden has pretty much been the exclusive closer for the Blues since joining the team after the Aggies’ ouster from the NCAA Regionals.
Blues manager Chal Fanning hesitated just a little bringing Mengden on in the ninth because he wanted to give reliever Chase Greene, who came on to start the eighth and earned the win, a chance to finish off the game.
Fanning also had full confidence Mengden would come through after Greene walked the bases loaded.
For Mengden, Fanning said, “it’s a combination of everything. The game’s easy for him, the game’s fun for him, yet he’s a warrior competitor. He enjoys that pressure and wants to be in there.”
Mengden struck out Chris Aguirre and got Steve Pascual to ground out softly to first to end the game.
The victory softened the memory of a testy fifth inning, when the Barons struck for the fourth and fifth runs against Blues starter Gandy Stubblefield and a shoving match ensued at home plate.
Barons centerfielder Trent Zaks was visibly annoyed when he was the second straight batter hit by a Stubblefield pitch to start the inning. When Zaks came around to score from second on a wild pitch by Stubblefield, Zaks shoved the Blues pitcher while he tried to cover the plate.
Stubblefield shoved back, both benches cleared but the confrontation was extinguished when Barons manager Carl Nichols shouted his team back into the visiting dugout. Zaks and Stubblefield were both ejected.
This came a day after the Blues cruised to a 17-4 victory over their Compton-based CCL rivals.
“They obviously wanted to come out with something to prove after what happened to them (Friday) night,” Fanning said. “So, they came out a little bit emotional, which is fine. We didn’t handle things very well, and we’re going to have a talk about that.”
The teams wrap up a three-game series today at 1 p.m.
On Saturday, Nick Flair and Austin Grisham led the Blues offensively, with each going 2 for 4 with two runs scored. Flair hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and Grisham singled and scored during the seven-run rally in the eighth.
Prior to the home run, the Blues trailed 5-1 and the lineup was having trouble following Friday’s massive output.
When Taylor Anderson drove in the go-ahead run, and the Blues kept right on scoring, it signaled a hearty comeback.
“When that stuff happened early,” Fanning said, “I had confidence that there’s still a lot of game left, and sure enough, you see what happens, and that’s why you never count yourself out.
“The main thing I kept telling these guys is let’s be mature, show maturity at the plate. We’ll get back into this thing one inning at a time, and they did a good job.”