Everything it seemed was pointing toward a pitchers’ duel.
Except the American flag. That was pointing straight out to left field, and it carried more weight than skimpy ERAs.
No. 17 UC Santa Barbara knocked around Cal Poly ace Matt Imhof, and the Gauchos deflected comeback attempts by No. 5 Cal Poly to take an 8-6 victory Friday and take the first strike in a three-game Big West Conference series at Baggett Stadium.
Imhof could be taken in the first round of the upcoming MLB Draft. The sophomore left-hander brought 6-1 record and a miniscule 1.05 ERA into the game and leads the Big West with 77 strikeouts.
Gauchos ace Austin Pettibone had only made two starts coming off an injury, but he was 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA this season, allowing just one run on five hits in eight innings.
Still, the duel fell apart after a scoreless first inning.
After tripping and falling off the mound in the second, suffering a minor back injury in the process, Imhof struggled with control issues, and the Gauchos took advantage.
UC Santa Barbara lifted back-to-back fly balls into a roaring wind and over the right-field wall for home runs, tagging Imhof for seven runs, six earned, the most he’s ever allowed in a game.
UC Santa Barbara designated hitter Robby Nesovic hit his first homer and the first home run of the season against Imhof, a three-run shot that gave the Gauchos (20-5, 2-2 Big West) a 3-2 lead in the third.
Left-handed first baseman Tyler Kuresa followed with an opposite-field homer to left in the next at-bat, and UC Santa Barbara chased Imhof in the fourth with a two-run double by Joey Epperson.
Facing a 7-2 deficit in the bottom half of the fourth, Cal Poly got right back into the game with a wind-aided home run of its own, a three-run blow by catcher Chris Hoo, who was 3 for 4 and only a triple shy of the cycle.
Cal Poly (24-5, 3-1 Big West) put up six earned runs on eight hits against Pettibone, who lasted just 4 1⁄3 innings, walking three and striking out one. Imhof’s final line was seven runs, six earned, on five hits and three walks and four strikeouts.
After Hoo’s blast, the Mustangs threatened to tie or take the lead in almost every inning, but they stranded 10 runners from the fifth through eighth innings.
Part of the problem for Cal Poly’s offense was the struggles of its top-of-the-order hitters.
Batters in the top four spots in the order combined to hit 2 for 16 with a single run and no RBI.
UC Santa Barbara’s hitters in the same four spots were 8 for 17 with six runs and seven RBI.
Helping keep things close for the Mustangs were Hoo and second baseman Mark Mathias, Cal Poly’s hottest hitter.
Leading the team with a .370 batting average, Mathias was 3 for 5 with two runs and two steals. He ignited the two-out rally culminated by Hoo’s home run, his first of the season.