Cal State East Bay start fast, holds off No. 5 Chico State to split series
CHICO, Calif. -- Cal State East Bay broke out for 15 hits and held off a late rally by Chico State to pick up an 8-7 road win on Sunday. The Pioneers (17-15, 11-13 CCAA) and No. 5 Wildcats (27-7, 18-6 CCAA) split their four-game series for the second straight season.
Starting pitcher Michael Pope gave the Pioneers an outstanding performance through the first six innings, holding Chico scoreless on two hits as the East Bay offense jumped out to an 8-0 lead thanks to 11 hits in the first five innings.
The Pioneers scored in the top of the first for the third time in four games when Jason Fletcher and Brandon Alexander traded doubles. In the second inning, two singles and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, and Ellis Stephney came up with the big hit, lacing two-run a double down the left field line to make it 3-0.
Stephney knocked in another run in the fourth with a base-loaded single right after the Wildcats had intentionally walked the red-hot Kelly Starnes. The Pioneers kept the pressure on the following inning, putting two runners on with no outs. An RBI single by Marcus Williams brought home Ryan Kochan, who had walked. Then Starnes hit a hot shot that kicked off the third baseman's glove to plate Daniel Carney, who had singled. By the time Chico escaped the inning, they were on their third pitcher and the Pioneers led 7-0.
After a leadoff double by Zac Chuvala and another Wildcat error, East Bay tacked on one more insurance run in the seventh, and it turned out to be a crucial one.
Pope entered the bottom of the seventh working on a two-hitter and having thrown just 61 pitches when the Chico bats finally woke up. They loaded the bases on a walk, a hit batter, and a single, and then cleared the bases with a three-run pinch-hit triple. After allowing a sacrifice fly, Pope got out of the inning with an 8-4 lead.
After getting a key double play to get through a scoreless eighth inning, Pope handed the ball over to Fletcher for the ninth. The right-hander issued two walks and hit a batter, sandwiched around a pop out. With the tying run at the plate, head coach Bob Ralston turned to senior Taylor Kruger. The next batter chopped a grounder to Kochan in the hole, but the runner beat his throw to second, and everyone was safe. The next hitter lined a single up the middle to plate yet another run.
The Pioneers now led 8-6 with one out and the bases still loaded. The next batter lined a base hit to right field to make it a one-run game, and move the winning run into scoring position. It looked like Chico had taken all the momentum, but then Kruger got a huge strikeout for the second out to preserve the lead. The next batter grounded a ball between third and short, and Kochan made a nice play to field it and get the force out to end the game.
Pope (2-3) got the win, allowing four earned runs on six hits. He walked one and struck out five. Kruger notched his first save of the season after escaping the jam in the ninth.
Stephney went 3-for-6 with a team-high three RBI. Carney and Tyler Buchanan both finished with two hits, and Starnes reached base three times with two knocks and a walk. Williams had a big game with the bat, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.