SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Cal Poly and Regional winner’s bracket games just don’t seem to get along. And routine flyballs are the instigator.
For the second year in a row, a flyball that should have been a routine out changed the momentum of Cal Poly’s Regional winner’s bracket contest. Pepperdine (41-16) took advantage, scoring two runs in the seventh inning to take a 2-1 victory Saturday night at Baggett Stadium.
“That was a tough one. We let an opportunity slide by,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “Casey [Bloomquist] has been our most consistent pitcher all year. He showed that again tonight.”
Last year, UCLA was able to score three runs on a ball lost in the lights to tie the game and eventually won 6-4. This time, the Mustangs (46-11) held a 1-0 lead and starter Casey Bloomquist was rolling. But with one out in the seventh inning, Pepperdine freshman catcher Aaron Barnett hit a tailing flyball to left-centerfield.
Left fielder Zack Zehner said he was camped under the ball, but centerfielder Jordan Ellis called him off and Zehner said he didn’t get out of the way in time.
“There was a lack of communication,” Zehner said. “We were both there, but he called it. It’s his ball, so got to get out of the way.”
The two outfielders collided with the ball ricocheting off Ellis’ glove toward the warning track. Barnett hustled around and dove in head first to third base. Hutton Moyer followed with an RBI double off the right field wall to even the game.
“I was just trying to flush that whole play and just focus on the hitter at that point,” Bloomquist said. “I hung a pitch and he made me pay for it. That’s what happens when you face a good hitter.”
Two batters later, Moyer came around to score the go-ahead run when Manny Jefferson floated a ball behind first base that John Schuknecht couldn’t make an over-the-shoulder catch on. The ball hit him in the glove, but he couldn’t clasp the leather together to end the inning.
“This might be the Regional where the fortuitous bounces kind of actually went our way. We’ve had some really bad luck in past Regionals,” Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “Watching the type of baseball that was played and the defense and everything, it was pretty impressive to be a part of. It really was.”
That was all the offense Pepperdine needed because starting pitcher Aaron Brown got better and better as the game went on.
Brown was hit hard in the first couple of innings, needing 49 pitches to get through the first two frames. He allowed a run in the second inning on a Mark Mathias sacrifice fly, but stranded a pair of runners in each of the first two innings.
“I just kind of settled in and found the zone,” Brown said. “I commanded the fastball pretty well and got guys to get out on one or two pitches.”
Cal Poly managed only two hits after the second inning and one of those was wiped out on a double play. Brown threw 121 pitches, allowing only three hits and an unearned run in eight innings.
Eric Karch needed just six pitches in the ninth inning to collect his 15th save of the season. The game was punctuated by a diving stop by Jefferson in the hole, who quickly jumped to his feet and gunned out Chris Hoo at first.
Bloomquist pitched a complete game, but took the tough-luck loss, allowing seven hits and two runs (one earned) while striking out seven.
Brian Mundell had two of the Mustangs’ three hits while Moyer and Jefferson both had two hits for Pepperdine.
The Waves advance to the Regional championship Sunday evening and will await the winner of tomorrow afternoon’s elimination game at 1 p.m. Cal Poly will take on Sacramento State in the afternoon contest.
Check out the 14-shot photo gallery from Game 4 of the San Luis Obispo Regional: