SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Senior right fielder John Schuknecht belted his second career grand slam and knocked in a career-high six runs while junior right-hander Justin Calomeni struck out a career-high 11 as Cal Poly clinched its Big West Conference baseball series against UC Irvine with a 17-5 triumph Sunday afternoon before 1,387 in Baggett Stadium.
Cal Poly scored four runs in the first inning, all unearned as a result of three UC Irvine errors, and never looked back, taking the series, two games to one, and improving to 28-22 overall and 9-9 in the Big West, alone in fourth place.
UC Irvine fell to 28-21 and 8-10.
Schuknecht drove in a run in the first-inning rally with a fielder's choice, lofted a sacrifice fly to center field for his second RBI in the fourth inning and smashed his grand slam on the first pitch he saw in Cal Poly's seven-run fifth-inning uprising.
Schuknecht (pictured above) now has six home runs this season and leads the team and the Big West with 43 RBI. His other career grand slam came against Oregon State a year ago in Corvallis. He is the 20th Mustang in the school's 22-year Division I history to notch at least six RBI in a game.
Junior shortstop Brett Binning entered the series with one RBI and knocked in four for the series, including three Sunday with a sacrifice fly and a two-run double.
Junior center fielder Brett Barbier hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning, his third of the year, and freshman catcher Nick Meyer also drove in two runs with a sacrifice fly and a solo home run, his first as a Mustang, on the first pitch after Schuknecht's slam.
Cal Poly hit three home runs in a game for the second time this season. The Mustangs also accomplished the feat against Sacramento State on March 20.
Calomeni and freshman right-hander Bobby Ay benefitted greatly from the 16-hit offensive onslaught.
Calomeni (4-2) allowed two runs and seven hits over six innings with two walks and 11 strikeouts. His previous career high for strikeouts was nine, done twice in 2014 against Santa Clara and Northern Illinois.
Despite the lopsided score, Ay earned a three-inning save.
Calomeni was moved to the bullpen midway through the 2015 season because, in his six starts that year, he compiled an 0-3 record and 9.17 ERA. In contrast, he was 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA in six relief appearances that year. His first 19 appearances on the mound this spring were all in relief as well until Sunday.
The loss went to UC Irvine southpaw Cameron Bishop (5-5) as he suffered his fourth straight setback after a 5-1 start, allowing six runs (two earned) and three hits over three innings with four walks and five strikeouts. Bishop was the first of seven pitchers used by Anteater head coach Mike Gillespie.
Cal Poly was without its three regular weekend starters on the mound due to a violation of team rules earlier in the week. The three starters in their place — Calomeni, Spencer Howard and Craig Colen — combined for two wins, a 2.12 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 17 innings this weekend.
Mustang head coach Larry Lee said the trio of suspended pitchers — Kyle Smith, Erich Uelmen and Jarred Zill — would return to the team this week.
"Howard, Colen and Calomeni gave us three quality starts and allowed us to shorten the game," said Lee. "They definitely earned the respect from the entire team."
Freshman left fielder Alex McKenna was 3-for-6 with one RBI while freshman second baseman Kyle Marinconz, Barbier, Schuknecht, Meyer, junior third baseman Michael Sanderson and sophomore designated hitter Josh George all had a pair of hits for Cal Poly.
In all, Cal Poly hit .337 in the series with six doubles and five home runs. Meyer went 6-for-14, Barbier 5-for-12, McKenna 5-for-13 and Binning 5-for-9. Schuknecht was 4-for-11 with two home runs and eight RBI. UC Irvine's staff ERA was 8.28.
"Offensively, in two of the three games, we swung the bats extremely well," Lee said.
UC Irvine's 10 hits included two each by outfielder Adam Alcantara and second baseman Cole Krueter.
Cal Poly plays its final midweek game of the season Tuesday night at CSU Bakersfield.
Cal Poly Clinches Big West Series Against UC Irvine With 17-5 Triumph
|UC Irvine (28-21, 8-10)||0||2||0||0||0||0||2||1||0||5||10||3|
|Cal Poly (28-22, 9-9)||4||0||2||2||7||2||0||0||X||17||16||1|