Mac Stuart had already delivered a couple of key at-bats before he stepped to the plate for the third time Wednesday afternoon.
It was then, though, that the star junior for the Paso Robles High baseball team effectively put the game out of reach and kept the Bearcats’ PAC 7 title hopes alive.
Stuart hit a three-run home run over the left-field wall in the fourth inning at Barnhart Field to put Paso Robles up 9-1 on visiting St. Joseph. The Bearcats went on to win 11-1, evening the league series at a game apiece.
“He had a great game,” Paso Robles coach Derek Stroud said. “I’d say throughout this whole year, he’s probably been our most consistent hitter wherever we’ve played.”
Stuart, who came into the game batting a league-leading .457 with 10 doubles and two homers, finished the day 4 for 4 with the home run, three doubles and five RBI.
“It seems like when he does well, especially here, guys feed off of that,” Stroud said, “and obviously he was up in some RBI situations today and made the most of it.”
The victory, which followed a 4-3 Knights win Tuesday, kept second-place Paso Robles (15-7, 9-5) within striking distance of idle first-place Arroyo Grande (13-4, 9-3) in the PAC 7 standings.
“This series is pretty important,” Stuart said. “We just have to come out strong every game, instead of just a couple.”
Perhaps fittingly, a year after the Bearcats edged the Eagles by one win for the league title, those two will again meet in the last series of the regular season in two weeks. Arroyo Grande is playing in the Don Lugo Tournament starting today before returning to PAC 7 play against last-place Righetti next week. San Luis Obispo (10-10, 7-4) is also still in contention.
If Paso Robles really wants to position itself well heading into the final series, it could use a series-clinching rubber-match win in Santa Maria at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“Things went well for us (Wednesday),” Stroud said, “but (Tuesday) was completely the opposite. Unfortunately we’ve got to go play the third one back down there, and they’re a lot more comfortable in their confines, just like we’re more comfortable in our confines. So we’ve got to find a way to go down there and get one.
“If we don’t get Friday, that pretty much eliminates us, at least for that (top) spot,” Stroud said of potential championship-contending scenarios. “We’d be fighting to try to get those second and third spots (in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoff seeding).”
Those implications weren’t lost on Stuart.
“Friday’s pretty important to get momentum and get our team on the right track,” Stuart said. “We don’t want to go into A.G. with a loss.”
In addition to Stuart, three other Bearcats had extra-base hits Wednesday, forcing the fourth-place Knights (12-9, 5-6) to use two relievers.
Scott Plescia had an RBI double, Elias Stokes finished 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI, and Angel Gonzalez drew three walks before legging out a double.
Austin Swank had two RBI for Paso Robles, and Michael Gonzalez and Eli Vargas (2 for 3) drove in one run apiece.
Ryan Brockman (6-0) pitched another strong game, tossing a four-hitter with one strikeout and one walk in going the distance.
“We got quality pitching. Defensively, I think we made every play, and offensively, we put some good at-bats together,” Stroud said.