Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee was standing in the dugout during Saturday afternoon’s season finale against UC Davis when Kevin Morgan approached with an unusual request.
The junior designated hitter — who was 2 for 3 with a double and home run to that point — asked Lee and assistant coach Teddy Warrecker if he could give his final at-bat of the season to seldom-used senior Connor O’Hare.
It was the Mustangs’ senior day, after all, and the team bid farewell to graduating seniors John Schuknecht, O’Hare and fourth-year junior Brett Barbier during a pregame ceremony.
Lee granted Morgan’s request, and what followed will likely be remembered as one of the more fond moments of O’Hare’s collegiate baseball career.
The San Luis Obispo High School graduate hit an RBI triple down the right-field line and came around to score moments later, putting the finishing touch on Cal Poly’s 10-5 season-ending victory over the visiting Aggies.
“That gave me goose bumps,” said freshman catcher Nick Meyer, who went 4 for 5 and scored twice. “It shows a lot of guys on our team that, if you don’t play, you’re still a big part of this team.
“He was a big factor on this team, one of the greatest guys, greatest teammates I’ve ever played with.”
It was the first extra-base hit and first RBI of O’Hare’s 28-game, two-year career as a Mustang. The moment capped an exciting day offensively, with Cal Poly (32-25, 12-12 Big West) and UC Davis combining for 27 hits against nine pitchers.
Schuknecht staked the Mustangs to a 3-0 lead in the first inning when he hit a bases-clearing double down the left-field line. Schuknecht then hit his team-leading 15th double of the season and the 30th of his 187-game career in the sixth.
The timely hit highlighted a standout final season for the senior right fielder, who concluded the year as the Big West leader in RBI with 49.
“My career here has been a lot of ups and downs,” Schuknecht said. “I’ve been in some really low points, some really high points, and I think that actually was good for me this year because I was able to relate to guys on both ends of the spectrum.”
UC Davis (17-36, 5-19 Big West) refused to end its season quietly, however.
The Aggies scored once in the third, three times in the fourth and one more in the fifth to build a 5-4 advantage.
Morgan answered with his second home run of the season in the fourth — a solo shot to right field — and Michael Sanderson’s RBI single in the sixth evened the score at 5-5.
The Mustangs took control for good in the seventh, when freshman second baseman Kyle Marinconz hit a two-out, two-run double down the right field line, extending Cal Poly’s lead to 8-5.
Marinconz was one of three players, along with Barbier and Sanderson, who started all 57 games this season. He tied for the team lead with 15 doubles and helped steady a middle infield that rotated throughout the year.
“You have to take the positives,” Lee said. “For our first-year guys, they now understand how much of a grind it is.”
Freshman right-hander Spencer Howard made his second career start and 21st appearance overall Saturday against the Aggies. The former Templeton High standout gave up four runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out one in less than four full innings on the mound.
Three relievers — Justin Bruihl, Slater Lee and Justin Calomeni — limited UC Davis to one run over the final 5 1/3 innings. Lee was credited with his third victory and Calomeni, an electric junior and likely MLB draft pick, earned his eighth save of the year.
“All of our guys have learned so much,” Meyer said. “Next year is going to be our big year and we need to come out firing.”