A swinging bunt gave Jimmy Allen no play at third.
A standard bunt to the capital city of No Man’s Land left John Schuknecht similarly kerfuffled.
Then a sky-high chopper worthy of a supermarket superball dispenser gave Peter Van Gansen time to think about making a throw to third but no time to make one.
After the Cal Poly baseball team had come all the way back from a five-run deficit to tie the score going into the ninth inning, three straight Pepperdine hits loaded the bases as if there were Angels in the infield.
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Then Bryan Langlois hit a back-breaking triple to the gap in right centerfield that effectively put an end to the Mustangs’ hopes of emerging from the first San Luis Obispo-hosted NCAA Division I regional in Cal Poly program history.
Pepperdine (42-16) eliminated the Mustangs (47-12) with a 10-6 victory Sunday night at a Baggett Stadium stuffed nearly full with a crowd that had finally found its groove with full-throated chants of “CAL! … POLY!”
Schuknecht, who went 2 for 4 with two runs and emerged as one of the Mustangs’ best hitters over the course of the weekend, couldn’t decide whether to field Brandon Caruso’s sacrifice bunt attempt or cover the base as pitcher Taylor Chris tried to chase it down, too.
“On the bunt, I should have just been getting an out, coming to get it and getting the out at first,” Schuknecht said. “I just kind of panicked and got caught in no-man’s land.”
That was after Manny Jefferson’s dribbler down the line stayed fair enough and soft enough to give the Waves shortstop easily enough time to get to first.
“That ball gets hit harder,” Chris said, “Jimmy makes the play to get the leadoff guy, so they’re not even bunting. It all just depends.”
The sucker punch of an ending negated an emotional comeback for Cal Poly.
After the Mustangs held on to beat Sacramento State 6-5 in an elimination game earlier in the day, Cal Poly starter Danny Zandona had a dream of a first 1 2⁄3 innings, only to wake up in a recurring nightmare of trying to get the final out of the second.
Pepperdine strung together five hits around a couple of walks and scored five runs credited to Zandona, all after the Mustangs right-hander had gotten the first two outs on five pitches.
The deficit seemed extra daunting considering Cal Poly had to not only beat Pepperdine on Sunday night but also needed to then win a Monday matchup to secure its first ever trip to the Super Regionals.
But with Chris headed toward the mound, the Mustangs weren’t giving up.
“We gave up the five in the second,” Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said. “It was OK to give it up that early. If we gave it up in the fourth, fifth or the sixth, it makes it a little bit more difficult.”
Said Schuknecht: “We knew we were going to come back. I said after the earlier game that it was going to be a dogfight. There was no panic in the dugout. We all knew that we were going to be able to do it and tie it up. When we got that tying run across, the stadium was awesome. The fans deserved that win, I think, more than we did.”
Cal Poly scratched back into the game with single runs in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh innings.
Nick Torres and Allen each homered. Torres was 2 for 3 with three RBI, including a sacrifice fly. Allen was 3 for 5 with two runs. Like Schuknecht, Van Gansen was 2 for 4 with an RBI, and Mark Mathias was 4 for 5.
Van Gansen’s RBI single in the eighth cut the Pepperdine lead to one, and Schuknecht tied it by legging out a potentially inning-ending double play that scored Allen.
None of it, however, would have been possible without the performance of Chris, was just what the Mustangs needed.
Chris pitched a season-high 6 1⁄3 innings, and coming into the ninth, he had allowed just one run on three hits.
He came into the game with a 4-0 record, a 0.91 ERA and five saves but had yet to make an appearance in the regional. Also, all but one of his previous outings were 3 1⁄3 innings or less.
It wasn’t until the ninth that things fell apart.
It was a disappointing end for Cal Poly, which set a school record for victories and was favored to advance to a Super Regional meeting with No. 7 overall seed TCU next week.
Instead, Pepperdine advanced past the regional round for the first time since the Waves won the College World Series title in 1992.
But winning twice in regional play was also a first for the Mustangs, even if the ride was shorter than they would have liked.
“You try to continue to knock down barriers,” Lee said, “and you try to put yourself in this position year in and year out. And if you do that, the players in your program and the players coming into your program, they have a higher expectation level.
“And if you get accustomed to regional play and you’re not worried and you’re not stressed, you’re going to win a regional one of these days.”
The All-San Luis Obispo Regional Team is as follows:
Catcher — Aaron Barnett (Pepperdine)
First Base — John Schuknecht (Cal Poly)
Second Base — Hutton Moyer (Pepperdine)
Shortstop — Scotty Burcham (Sacramento State)
Third Base — Jimmy Allen (Cal Poly)
Outfield — Kyle Moses (Pepperdine), Nick Torres (Cal Poly) and Bryan Langlois (Pepperdine)
Utility — Mark Mathias (Cal Poly)
Pitchers — Aaron Brown (Pepperdine) and Matt Imhof (Cal Poly)
Most Outstanding Player — Aaron Brown (Pepperdine)