When the Cal Poly baseball team needed a dominant outing, Kyle Smith delivered exactly that Friday night.
The sophomore left-hander ended a run of hard-luck losses with one of his sharpest outings of the season, leading the Mustangs to a 7-0 victory over No. 11-ranked UC Santa Barbara in a key Big West Conference matchup at Baggett Stadium.
Cal Poly (23-13, 5-2 Big West) played errorless defense for the third straight game and moved into a tie with the Gauchos for second place in the conference standings.
“Errorless ball is the common denominator for a lot of the success that we’ve had,” head coach Larry Lee said.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
With UC Santa Barbara star Shane Bieber on the mound for the visiting Gauchos (25-8-1, 5-2 Big West), Smith found a way to raise his level of play a step further.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Smith (5-3) matched his career high with nine strikeouts, ending five of the first six innings with a strikeout. Smith’s first victory since April 1 and fifth overall matched the total from his entire freshman season.
He surrendered two hits over 7 1/3 innings and did not allow a runner to reach third base at any point. The two hits Smith gave up came in the first two innings.
“I was definitely looking forward to it, kind of thinking about it all day,” Smith said. “(I was) really excited to get after these guys, you know, they’re No. 11 in the nation and on top of us in the Big West, so getting after them tonight was huge.”
How it happened:
Junior first baseman Brett Barbier staked the Mustangs to an early 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the first inning. Barbier’s team-leading 49th hit of the season drove in sophomore Josh George, who beat out an infield single during the previous at-bat.
Senior right fielder John Schuknecht extended Cal Poly’s lead with a two-run double in the fifth. Schuknecht drove in another run with an RBI single in the seventh, bringing his team-leading RBI total to 31 for the season — tops in the Big West.
The Mustangs went on two score twice more in the seventh and eighth to seal the victory.
Heart of the order:
The top three hitters in Cal Poly’s lineup gave Bieber trouble.
Kyle Marinconz (2 for 5), George (3 for 4), Barbier (2 for 4) and Schuknecht (2 for 4) all had multiple hits and drove in at least one run. George came around to score three times and also stole his first base of the season in a strong all-around performance.
Barbier, who raised his team-high batting average to .388, has reached base safely in all 36 games this season.
“When the majority of those guys are being productive,” Lee said, “the role players can feel at ease and contribute in their own way.”
Marinconz moved into the leadoff spot with fellow freshman Alex McKenna, a 34-game starter, nursing a leg injury. McKenna, who leads the team with five home runs, missed his second straight game and Lee said he doesn’t anticipate the freshman playing this weekend.
“It’s an opportunity for somebody else,” Lee said, “and you just hope that your players can respond and they did.”
Taking on the best:
Bieber, the preseason Big West Pitcher of the Year, showed why he’s the conference leader in victories this spring early on.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior kept Cal Poly largely in check through the first four innings before the wheels fell off.
The 13 hits Bieber allowed were a season high, and the seven runs were the most since a March 4 loss at Oregon.
Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara are scheduled to meet in the second game of the series at 6 p.m. Saturday. Sophomore Erich Uelmen (4-0) will start on the mound for the Mustangs, and the Gauchos will counter with freshman Noah Davis (3-1).
“Tomorrow’s a new game and they run out some good arms,” Lee said. “Obviously, the offense was very good tonight, but when we take care of the ball it just allows us to stay in the ballgame.”