Whether it was your first weekend start at Baggett Stadium or your last, it was a pretty productive Sunday.
Seniors Denver Chavez and Elliot Stewart combined for the first five of the Cal Poly baseball team’s seven RBI, and freshman pitcher Casey Bloomquist had his deepest start of the year in his first appearance in the weekend rotation, a 7-2 victory over Cal State Northridge.
The Mustangs (37-16, 15-9 Big West Conference) swept the Matadors (31-23, 15-9 Big West) in the final home series of the season to move 21 games above .500 for the first time in program history, move into a second-place tie in the conference standings and make Cal Poly’s postseason possibilities look as bright as they have all year.
As the Mustangs head into their final conference series of the season at Pacific starting Thursday, there was some Twitter speculation that Cal Poly could not only be a shoo-in for an at-large berth but could still be competing to host an NCAA regional.
The Mustangs were 23rd in the RPI rankings according to warrennolan.com, a more frequently updated approximation of the NCAA’s official rankings, and 16 teams will be selected to host four-team regionals.
The possibility San Luis Obispo could be one is “probably not very likely,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “We’re just trying to stay as high in that RPI as possible. If we finish out well, there’s probably a possibility of a 2 seed, and there’s not much difference than a 2 seed and 3 seed.”
For a program that has just one Division I regional berth in program history and a couple of notable snubs, simply making the field is the top priority.
And the Mustangs, who’ve won nine of their past 11 games, appear to be playing their best.
In the series against Cal State Northridge, the pitching staff combined to allow just five runs.
Bloomquist, who was 5-1 as Cal Poly’s midweek starter, carried his success over to the weekend, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out six and walking none.
He’d pitched into the seventh inning six times this season, but Sunday was the first time he’d reached the eighth.
The 6-foot-3 sinkerballer from Bakersfield Christian was lifted with a man on second and one out in the eighth. Closer Reed Reilly finished the game allowing two hits and striking out two.
Not ready to say it was his best start of the season, Bloomquist has developed into a reliable option in his first year in the program.
“The mental side of the game has been the biggest thing, just being able to slow the game down,” he said. “You have to really play and be out there to truly understand. But it seems like everything’s going a mile a minute, and you have to focus on 30 things.”
The Mustangs had been searching for a solid Sunday starter but hesitated moving Bloomquist to the weekend considering the impact nonconference games can have on the RPI.
Bloomquist, however, with his high-80s sinker, a slider and changeup, has the makeup for Sundays at Baggett, where daytime conditions often see the wind blowing out.
“Considering it was a conference game,” Lee said, “very offensive conditions with the wind, he’s a perfect candidate for throwing with the heavy sink that he has, and he threw great.”
Cal Poly’s experienced fifth-year seniors certainly understood how to leverage the wind.
Chavez led off the bottom of the first with a home run to left off Matadors lefty starter John Salas, and Stewart had a solo shot to lead off the fifth and break up a 1-1 score.
It was Chavez’s first home run of the season — Stewart’s eighth — and the second baseman was due. Hitting .365 and better than .350 for the entire season, 63 of Chavez’s 80 hits this season have been singles.
“Guys have been teasing me about it because the past couple years, I’ve gotten one home run,” the switch-hitter said. “They always say I have more power right-handed, and that might be my last chance to hit right-handed.
“It was good to get that one in, for sure.”
After Chavez added an RBI single in the fifth, Stewart needed to one-up his roommate to remain ahead on the day in a playful rivalry and came up with a two-run single in the sixth to give Cal Poly a 5-1 lead.
Freshmen John Schuknecht and Peter Van Gansen each added a sac fly in the eighth for the Mustangs.
It was a feel-good home finale for Chavez and Stewart.
The second baseman from Santa Barbara suffered a broken bone in each of his wrists and dealt with nagging hamstring injuries over the course of his career before becoming the team’s top hitter this season.
Stewart, a catcher who has taken over the starting role with clutch power hitting this season, missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“Denver leads off with a home run. Stewart’s second time up, another solo shot,” Lee said. “I couldn’t be happier for those guys. They’ve been through a lot here at Cal Poly. To have them shine on senior day was a nice touch.”