RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Freshman right-hander Darren Nelson pitched seven solid innings for his fifth win and junior righty Austin Dondanville earned his second save in as many nights as Cal Poly clinched at least a tie for second place in the Big West Conference with a 2-1 victory over UC Riverside on Friday night at the Riverside Sports Complex.
Nelson (5-4) allowed a run and five hits with two walks and four strikeouts while Dondanville retired all six batters he faced, three via strikeout, for his fourth save of the year.
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs, despite stranding a dozen runners on the basepaths, scored single runs in the fifth and eighth innings and held on for their sixth consecutive win, clinching a winning season. Cal Poly is 29-27 overall and 14-9 in the Big West, a game ahead of third-place UC Irvine (13-10), which lost 4-1 at UC Davis earlier Friday.
UC Riverside, which has lost 21 of its last 27 games after a 13-11 start, fell to 19-32 and 7-16.
The Highlanders scored the game's first run in the fourth as Cole Pofek tripled with one out and came home on a single by Matt Hardy.
In the Mustang eighth, pinch-hitter Cole Cabrera and designated hitter Myles Emmerson opened with singles, putting runners at first and third. One out later, pinch-hitter Josh George sent a fly ball down the left-field line which was caught by Hardy in foul territory. Cabrera tagged up and scored on the sacrifice fly for a 2-1 Cal Poly lead.
UC Riverside began the bottom of the eighth with a walk before Dondanville was summoned from the bullpen and slammed the door on the Highlanders the rest of the way. Dondanville (pictured at right) has allowed one unearned run over 12 innings in his last five appearances on the mound, earning three saves.
Cal Poly had other chances to score, leaving the bases loaded in the third inning and two runners on base in both the second and seventh frames.
Nelson (pictured above) was helped by a pair of double plays turned by the Mustangs and threw 98 pitches in the victory.
Cal Poly's seven hits, all singles, included two each by Marinconz and Emmerson. Nick Meyer's 17-game hitting streak came to an end.
Designated hitter Connor Cannon singled twice for UC Riverside.
Final game of the series and the 2018 season for both teams will be played Saturday at 1 o'clock (ESPN3 and WatchESPN) with Cal Poly junior right-hander Michael Clark (4-6, 5.79 ERA) to face UC Riverside freshman righty Cole Percival (5-4, 3.32 ERA), son of Highlander head coach and former Major League reliever Troy Percival.
Cal Poly has three goals on the line Saturday – stretching its winning streak to seven games, a 30-win season for the ninth time in Larry Lee's 16 seasons as head coach and second consecutive outright second-place finish in the Big West.