Playing at home for the first time in more than three weeks, the Cal Poly baseball team returned to Baggett Stadium in victorious fashion Tuesday night.
With six freshmen in the starting lineup, the Mustangs rallied from an early two-run deficit to defeat visiting Cal State Bakersfield 8-4 in a nonconference matchup.
Cal Poly won its third straight game — its third such streak this season — and improved to 16-7 heading into a three-game series against San Jose State this coming weekend.
“As a team and as individuals we all have things that we need to improve on,” senior John Schuknecht said. “Going into conference — I know a lot of the teams in conference are good this year — (and) although we won tonight, if we play a game like this I don’t know if the outcome is going to be in our favor.”
Schuknecht led a players-only meeting after the game, which followed a fairly negative review from head coach Larry Lee. He pointed to the Mustangs’ three errors defensively and “lackluster” energy as key areas in need of improvement.
“We’re not ready for the teams that we’re going to face in conference,” Lee said. “We’ll get embarrassed.”
The Roadrunners (5-19) chased Cal Poly starting pitcher Cam Schneider in the fourth inning, when Sergio Robles and Ryan Grotjohn each hit RBI singles to stake the visitors to a 2-0 lead.
Moments later, Lee pulled Schneider in favor of fellow freshman right-hander Spencer Howard, a 2014 Templeton High graduate.
It was the fourth time in six outings this season that the 6-foot-7 Schneider has not made it past the fourth inning. The De La Salle High alumnus allowed two runs on four hits, struck out four and walked two.
Cal Poly refused to go away, however, scoring once in the fourth, twice in the fifth and sixth, and the Mustangs blew the game open with a three-run seventh.
Schuknecht continued a strong senior season at the plate with his third straight multi-hit game. His two-run triple in the seventh inning gave Schuknecht 27 RBI in 23 games this year, the highest total among Big West Conference players.
In going 3-for-5 on Tuesday, Schuknecht improved his batting average to .330 and he has gone 8-for-17 with six RBI over the last four games.
“It’s just a little bit difficult,” Schuknecht said. “Although we got the win, and we’re always happy for the win, it’s just, you can look at how we’ve played and how we’ve played in the past and it’s just clear to see that we are in fact better than we played today.”
Kyle Marinconz, Josh George and Cooper Moore also tallied multiple hits for Cal Poly, which out-hit Cal State Bakersfield 13-8.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Howard turned in another sharp outing in relief, continuing an encouraging trend he’s established in recent weeks. The former Los Padres League most valuable player surrendered two hits and struck out four over 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Howard has allowed only one run over the last 14 1/3 innings.
“He’s been really good,” Lee said. “He’s had three or four real quality outings.”
Junior Justin Calomeni closed the door on the Roadrunners by striking out five of the six batters he faced to end the game.
While the rest of the Big West begins conference play this weekend, Cal Poly is scheduled to host San Jose State in its final nonconference series of the season.
The Mustangs and Spartans (8-15) will play a three-game series beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at Baggett Stadium. They will meet again at 6 p.m. Saturday and conclude the series at 1 p.m. Sunday.