After finding a flare for the dramatic in its first two Big West games, the Cal State Bakersfield baseball team made life easier on itself in the second half of a Saturday double-header.
After suffering a tight 5-4 loss in the opener, the Roadrunners rode the arm of Art Joven and the bat of Nick Grossman to earn a split against UC Riverside with a 7-1 win in game two.
A night after a wild conference opener, where the Roadrunners overcame an early nine-run deficit en route to a 15-9 win, there was further drama in Saturday's first game, though it wouldn't go CSUB's way this time around.
A tough ninth inning call went against the Roadrunners and helped produce their first ever conference loss. With a runner on first and no one out, Nathan Webb squared to bunt and appeared to have brought his bat around on an inside pitch that struck him in the helmet.
The umpire disagreed, rewarding Webb first base, despite the objections of CSBU coach Jeremy Beard, who didn't feel he got a satisfying reason for the ruling.
"It wasn't a very good explanation," said Beard, whose team squandered a 3-0 lead it had built up over the first three innings. "It was that the ball hit him ... and the ball can hit you on an attempted bunt and it's still an attempted bunt. Sometimes things don't go your way."
Three batters later, Ely Stuart produced the winning run with a sharply hit RBI single to right field.
A Bakersfield tandem got CSUB off on the right track in game two. Highland grad Nick Salas led off the game with a double then came home two batters later on a single by Garces grad Jacen Roberson.
Nick Grossman would handle the offensive fireworks from there. After driving home Tyler Jorgensen with a fourth-inning single, Grossman delivered the knockout blow in the fifth, blasting a grand slam over the right field wall as part of a five-run inning in which CSUB batted around.
It was the second career home run for Grossman, both of them grand slams.
"It's just a really comfortable spot to hit in," Grossman said of batting with the bases loaded. "You have guys (in) scoring position. You're kind of just trying to hit a sac fly and if you catch enough of it, you'll be able to carry it out of here."
The scoring output was enough for Highland grad and Missouri transfer Art Joven, who had by far the best start of his short career at his hometown school.
Joven, who entered with an 11.25 ERA, recorded seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 shutout innings of work. He struck out the side in order in the fourth and retired 11 batters in a row from the second to the fifth innings.
"It felt good to bounce back and just compete with the guys and give them the best chance to win," Joven said. "I had a really good feel for my changeup today and my breaking stuff was kind of popping a little bit. I had to get after it."
Joven allowed the bases to be loaded with no outs in the sixth, but recorded a strikeout before being pulled for Ethan Skuija, who retired the next two batters to escape the inning unscathed.
Skuija, who entered the day with a 22.85 ERA, struck out four and allowed just one run in 3 2/3 innings, hitting speeds as high as 96 miles per hour on his fastball.
Picked to finish last in their new league, the Roadrunners are now 2-1 in conference play an have a chance to win their first ever Big West series as Riverside returns to Hardt Field for a 1 p.m. game Sunday.
"It's baseball no matter where you're playing it and who you're playing against. But there's no question we're here to try and win this thing," Beard said. "And our kids are going to keep their eye on the ball and they'll be really excited to compete tomorrow to try to take a series. That's what we're trying to do each week is win the series."
Bakersfield Christian grad Roman Angelo, who has a 1.50 ERA in two starts this season, will get the ball for the Roadrunners Sunday.