Jimmy Allen was fully horizontal as he dove to his right for the sharply hit grounder.
On his best day, it was the kind of hit the Cal Poly third baseman would have snagged, pushed himself up and thrown to first for the out, but in that instance, it was the worst-case scenario.
The ball popped out of Allen’s glove, dribbled under shortstop Peter Van Gansen’s and leaked into left field, and Cal State Fullerton took advantage from there.
The No. 23 Mustangs stumbled through an imperfect defensive outing Saturday night and wound up suffering a 10-5 defeat to the No. 4 Titans in front of 2,353 — the largest crowd at Baggett Stadium in six years.
Cal Poly (26-10, 7-4 Big West Conference) committed just one error, and that one hurt, but when plays ranged from routine to great, the Mustangs didn’t make as many as they needed to take a 2-0 series lead, making today’s rubber match a crucial one.
“Those plays,” Allen said, “get your team fired up, get the fans into it and give you momentum. Yeah, it’s difficult to make those plays, but you expect yourself to make those. That’s why you’re playing, and that’s why you’re at this level.”
After Allen’s diving play went awry, Cal State Fullerton (33-6, 9-2 Big West) had men on second and third and a run on the board in the third inning. The Titans got a two-run single by Chad Wallach in the next at-bat and led 4-0 going into the bottom half of the inning after an RBI single by Matt Chapman.
Chapman finished 3 for 5 with two doubles and three RBI, and Wallach was 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI. Greg Velazquez had a two-run home run for Cal State Fullerton in the sixth inning.
Though it didn’t result in a run, Allen had a tag attempt at third base bumped out of his grasp while applying the tag in the second inning, and a leaping snag of a hard-hit ball smacked out of his glove later in the game.
First baseman Tim Wise ranged well down the line going for a foul ball in right only to see it plop out of his glove and extend another Cal State Fullerton inning in the sixth.
Senior second baseman Denver Chavez had a two-out error in the seventh, and the Titans used it to put the game away with a three-run rally of unearned runs.
To that point, the Mustangs were still in the game. Despite falling behind, David Armendariz blasted a first-pitch solo home run — Cal Poly’s first hit of the game off Cal State Fullerton starter Justin Garza — to make it 4-1 after three innings.
Freshman designated hitter Brian Mundell hit a two-run shot in the fourth, his team-leading eighth of the season, to make it 4-3.
Chavez was 2 for 5 with a run and an RBI, Jordan Ellis was 2 for 5, and Allen was 1 for 3 with a double.
Coming into the game with just seven walks in 61 innings, Garza walked four in seven innings, allowing four runs on four hits and striking out eight.
Cal Poly starter Matt Imhof was tagged for six runs on seven hits while walking four and striking out four before being relieved in the sixth inning.
The loss dropped the Mustangs two games back of the Titans in the Big West standings, though Cal Poly remains alone in second place.
The teams wrap up the series today at 1 p.m. Bryan Granger (5-3, 4.47 ERA) will start for Cal Poly against Grahamm Wiest (6-2, 2.70) in a matchup of sophomore right-handers.
“It’s a new day,” Allen said. “It’s a big game because it makes a statement. If we win the series against Fullerton, we’re the top dog against them for the rest of the year, but it’s just one game at a time. You’ve got to let these games go.”