Mark DeVincenzi watched the line drive skim over the wall in left, crouched to his knees in front of the mound and dropped his gaze to the grass.
A different kind of maddening March continues for the Cal Poly baseball team.
With plenty of people preoccupied with the NCAA basketball tournament, the Mustangs remain mired in an overall slump that’s led to four straight losses, the latest a frustrating 11-9 defeat to Cal in the opening of a three-game weekend series Friday at Baggett Stadium.
DeVincenzi, a Mustangs relief pitcher, gave up a grand slam to Mark Canha, the first batter he faced entering the game in the eighth inning, to undermine a methodical Cal Poly comeback from a five-run first-inning deficit that tied the score at 6-6 in the fifth.
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The grand slam wasn’t the only backbreaking moment in the game for the Mustangs, just the latest low point in what has started as a disappointing season.
Cal Poly (6-10) has yet to win a weekend series in three tries — all at home — this year and now trails the Golden Bears (10-6) by one game in this set.
This comes one year after the Mustangs won their first four weekend series and eventually appeared in the program’s first Division I NCAA regional.
High hopes carried over, but, so far, the results have not.
Friday, it seemed Cal Poly was doomed from the start. First-time weekend starter Joey Wagman walked four batters and hit two others to help give Cal five runs on just two hits in the top of the first.
Wagman, who came into the game with a 4.87 ERA, and took over Kyle Anderson’s spot in the rotation was replaced by Eugene Wright after recording just two outs.
Combined with news that potential ace Steven Fischback could miss his second straight full season with shoulder problems and that practical ace Mason Radeke (3-1, 2.96 ERA) is liable to miss time with pitching arm tenderness, Wagman’s rough start was ill-timed.
“We need to basically outscore,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “We’re not capable of throwing shutouts or a majority of the time keeping the score down. We just don’t have that type of a pitching staff. We just have to make sure we bang the ball offensively. We’re going to have to try to put up as many runs as we can in nine innings.”
Trouble came at the plate, too.
Even though Cal Poly scratched back into the game with single-run rallies in the first, third and fourth innings, the Mustangs could have had many more.
Cal Poly struck out with runners in scoring position to end the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings and left the bases loaded in each of the final three frames.
“You hope for those situations,” said Mustangs designated hitter Luke Yoder, who was 2 for 4 with a double and a triple. “You really want to be in those situations where you have a chance to make a game-changing at-bat.
“And so when they come around, you get amped up, and maybe we’re getting too amped up. You want to succeed so much, you end up failing.”
Still, Cal Poly’s offense stood out by scoring six earned runs against Cal’s Erik Johnson, who entered the game unscored upon this season. In 19 innings coming in, Johnson had struck out 20, walked just four and allowed only 12 hits.
The Mustangs rallied for seven hits against Johnson before Adam Melker knocked him out of the game with a stinging line drive that ricocheted off the pitcher’s forehead and blooped for a single to shallow center field in the sixth.
Johnson was only on the ground for a moment and jogged off the field under his own power.
After the disastrous first inning, Cal Poly remained competitive with the help of its bullpen. Reliever Eugene Wright pitched 51⁄3 innings, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out three.
Jeff Johnson struck out the side in the seventh but was tagged with the loss when his bequeathed runners scored on the grand slam.
“Eugene and Jeff Johnson threw extremely well,” Lee said. “They did what they were supposed to do. They kept us in the ball game and let us chip into their lead.”