Cal Poly

College Baseball: Yoder’s walk-off hit lifts Cal Poly

Cal Poly’s Evan Busby catches a bunt attempt as Matt Leonard gets out of the way during Friday’s 4-3 win over UC Santa Barbara at Baggett Stadium. The teams play again today at 6 p.m.
Cal Poly’s Evan Busby catches a bunt attempt as Matt Leonard gets out of the way during Friday’s 4-3 win over UC Santa Barbara at Baggett Stadium. The teams play again today at 6 p.m. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Luke Yoder still felt good about himself after starting Friday’s game 0 for 2 at the plate.

The Cal Poly left fielder stroked a couple of deep fly balls off potent UC Santa Barbara lefty Mario Hollands.

The booming flies — one to left, the other to right — came off the barrel of Yoder’s bat. That they didn’t go far enough meant little to the fifth-year senior.

“You feel confident when you hit barrels,” said Yoder, who went 2 for 5 with two RBI, “whether it goes up, whether it’s a hit or even if you hit it right at a guy. You’re kind of upset about it at the time, but you feel good about yourself just hitting barrels.”

The banked self-assurance paid off when Yoder followed the two outs with an RBI triple in his third at-bat and the game-winning walk-off single in the 10th inning to give Cal Poly a 4-3 win in the first of a three-game series against UC Santa Barbara at Baggett Stadium.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Gauchos (12-12, 0-1 Big West Conference), who tied the score at 3 in the top of the ninth against Cal Poly sophomore reliever Jeff Johnson, who blew the save but had one of his best outings of the season and improved to 2-2 with the win.

Cal Poly (9-19, 2-2 Big West) had lost 13 of 15 games coming in and has a chance to win its second straight for the first time in a month.

Friday’s game was the second consecutive extra-inning win for the Mustangs, who last got a victory a week ago in a 5-3, 10-inning triumph over UC Riverside.

It was also the third straight hard-luck no-decision for Mustangs starter Matt Leonard, whose record remains stuck at 0-4 despite some recent success.

“His last few outings have just been amazing,” Johnson said. “It kind of hurts to watch him go out there and give all he can for us every time and not be able to get a win for us.”

Leonard started the season taking losses in four of his first five decisions, but lately, his statistics have shown a definite improvement.

In the past three starts, the senior left-hander has given up just two earned runs and 18 hits combined. He’s also walked only three in his past 31 innings pitched.

He’s dropped his ERA from 7.59 in mid-March to 4.04 after Friday.

“We need to find a way to get him a win,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “He’s deserved a win the last three outings.”With the way Johnson was pitching, it appeared Leonard was going to get that victory.

Johnson replaced Leonard with two outs and a runner on second in the seventh inning and struck out UC Santa Barbara’s Gunnar Terhune to end the threat.

Johnson proceeded to strike out seven batters in his 31⁄3 innings, tying a career high he set in four innings in the extra-inning victory over the Highlanders last week.

But Johnson and Terhune would meet again.

After two singles and two strikeouts in the Gauchos’ half of the ninth, Terhune hit a dribbler up the middle that got through diving shortstop J.J. Thompson and second baseman Matt Jensen to score pinch-runner Bryce Tafelski.

Cal Poly nearly scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth after D.J. Gentile doubled down the line in left and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Elliot Stewart.

But the Gauchos threw a well-timed pitch off the plate as pinch-hitter Jordan Hadlock lunged out to attempt a suicide squeeze.

Gentile was running on the play and was thrown out between third and home, and Hadlock struck out to end the inning.“It was just too far outside,” Lee said. “They did a good job. They guessed right. They got us on that one.”

It was the second out the Mustangs ran into on the basepaths. Bobby Crocker was caught at second after rounding third on a hit-and-run play in the third.

Jensen hit a drive to the gap that was caught on a dive by UC Santa Barbara right fielder Mark Haddow, who got the ball to second in time to get Crocker diving back.

Cal Poly also had two dropped pop flies on defense, one of which eventually led to a run.

“We shoot ourselves in the foot quite a bit,” Lee said, “but as long as we can put the past in the past and just focus on the present, then that’s what this game allows you to do.”

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