SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Held scoreless for the first 24 innings this weekend, UC Riverside finally broke through for a run in the seventh inning on a solo home run by AJ Sawyer and went on to beat Cal Poly 4-0 in the final game of the 2017 baseball season for both teams Saturday afternoon before 1,580 inside Baggett Stadium.
Head coach Troy Percival's Highlanders salvaged a win in the three-game Big West Conference series, closing out his third campaign at UC Riverside with a 22-32 overall mark and 8-16 Big West record.
Cal Poly, its five-game winning streak coming to an end, finished dead even at 28-28 overall and second place alone in the Big West with a 16-8 mark. Cal State Fullerton dropped a 1-0 decision to first-place Long Beach State on Saturday night and finished in third place.
The Mustangs were 2-11 three weeks into the season and started Big West play with an 8-16 mark before winning 20 of 31 games to get back to and above the .500 mark for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.
Sawyer led off the seventh with his first home run of the season on a 3-1 pitch from Cal Poly southpaw Trent Shelton. One week after earning a victory at UC Santa Barbara, Shelton (1-1) allowed just the one run and six hits in seven innings with one walk and a career-high seven strikeouts.
The Highlanders added three insurance runs in the ninth to pull away. Backup first baseman Ian Nowak tripled to knock in the first run, designated hitter Yeager Taylor doubled to score Nowak and catcher Tony Gudino singled down the right-field line for the final run.
Cal Poly was shut out for the ninth time this season, a school Division I record, as senior right-hander Alex Fagalde (7-4) went the distance for the win, scattering four hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
The Mustangs produced a pair of two-out singles by Kyle Marinconz and Alec Smith in the first inning, a leadoff single by Scott Ogrin in the third, a leadoff walk by Josh George in the eighth and a leadoff single by Bradlee Beesley in the ninth, but could not cash in any of them.
Fagalde retired the side in order five times, allowed just one runner to reach third and one more to advance to second. The Cuesta College transfer threw 104 pitches en route to his first complete game in two seasons at UC Riverside.
Mustang first baseman and clean-up hitter Michael Sanderson, batting .323 this season, dislocated his left shoulder after making a diving catch of a foul pop-up ending the first inning and was sidelined the rest of the game.
Sanderson knocked in the lone run of the game in Cal Poly's 1-0 triumph Thursday and the Mustangs also won Friday's game 5-0 as Sanderson produced two more hits, including his third home run of the season.
Mustang catcher Nick Meyer (pictured above) threw out one Highlander runner trying to steal second base and picked off another at first base. For the season, the newest member of USA Baseball's 2017 Collegiate National Team caught 18 would-be base stealers and picked off four others. In his freshman season a year ago, Meyer caught 22 thiefs and picked off 10 other runners en route to Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year honors.
Cal Poly won seven of its eight Big West series, but lost on Senior Day for the first time since 2009 when UC Riverside posted a 6-5 victory.
Saturday's crowd boosted the series total to 4,449 and gave the Mustangs a season average of 1,524 fans, No. 2 on the all-time Baggett Stadium list. Cal Poly's 2014 Big West Conference championship season attracted a record 1,659 fans per game.
Cal Poly finished fourth or better in the Big West standings for the 13th time in Larry Lee's 15 seasons at the helm of the Mustangs. Cal Poly claimed the Big West title in 2014 and this year's runner-up ending marks the fourth second-place finish for the Mustangs under Lee's tutelage.