Junior right-hander David Meals has been one of the more reliable options out of the bullpen this season, entering late in games and shutting the door on the opposition. With a middle relief corps severely taxed from this past weekend’s series against Cal Poly, the Gaucho saves-leader got the call to start his first game of the season yesterday, and was pounded by Bakersfield for seven runs over five innings with his team ultimately falling at home 8-6 to an underdog Roadrunner squad.

“[Meals] was the freshest arm because he didn’t throw this weekend,” sophomore starter Mario Hollands said. “As a junior college starter, everyone had full confidence in him.”

Despite a nasty array of pitches, Meals found himself down early as the CSUB offense struck for three runs in the first frame before tacking on two more in the third. A Roadrunner offense that had been outscored 35 to nine in its previous three games with Santa Barbara, all Gaucho victories, did all it could to provide run support for their freshman starter Spenser Messmore, who pitched a complete game in the two-run route.

“Their [Bakersfield’s] offense did not surprise us because they scored a bunch last time they were here,” Hollands said, alluding to a nail-biting UCSB win that saw CSUB plate seven runs at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.

The Gauchos’ six-run output at the plate was not enough to surmount an early disadvantage, though there were some highlights to be taken from the home loss. Senior centerfielder Brian Gump (.343 average, 6 HR, 31 RBI) had a three-hit day at the plate, but had his hat trick was overshadowed by a questionable call in the eighth where he was called out trying to steal second. Gump and Head Coach Bob Brontsema were up in arms, as it appeared as though the Bakersfield’s first baseman obstructed the path of “Hot Pants”.

Other Gaucho bats that stood out were those of junior second baseman Matt Valaika and freshman third baseman Ryan Palermo. Valaika hit his fourth homerun of the season to extend his hitting streak to nine games, while Palermo went two-for-three with an RBI in his first collegiate start at the hot corner. In severely limited playing time, Palermo has five hits in nine at bats this season.

“Palermo’s going to be a star in the Big West for however long he’s here,” Hollands said. “He’s one of the best underclassmen we have on the team, and I have no doubt that he is going to make his mark on this program.”

With an important road series against #7 Cal State Fullerton coming up, the Gauchos must now rebound from a shocking loss heading back into Big West play. In order for the team to be successful and potentially make the postseason, the wavering middle relief must shore up its struggles and deliver.

“With a tough road to the playoffs, we are going to need the bullpen to pitch well for the remaining weeks,” Hollands said.