Historic run over for Mustangs

Cal Poly baseball team eliminated from NCAA regional with 8-5 loss to San Diego at UCLA

jscroggin@thetribunenews.comJune 3, 2013 

LOS ANGELES — If Saturday’s loss was the nightmare, Freddy Krueger was right back waiting at Jackie Robinson Stadium when the Cal Poly baseball team retook the field Sunday.

The second-seeded Mustangs (40-19) followed up a crushing defeat defined by a disappearing fly ball the night before with a game characterized by defensive and pitching blunders.

They were eliminated from the Los Angeles Regional with their second defeat of the tournament, an 8-5 loss to third-seeded San Diego (37-24), which later fell to host UCLA, 6-0 in the regional final.

Avenging a 9-2 loss to Cal Poly from Friday, the Toreros took the lead on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth inning and added a four-run rally in the sixth powered by a lone single and several miscues.

It all came one day after the Mustangs saw a no-hit bid spoiled in the sixth and a four-run lead over the Bruins evaporate when right fielder Nick Torres lost sight of a deep fly with the bases loaded.

The Mustangs went from sensing the sweet smell of the Super Regionals to catching a bus ride home in time to clean out their lockers for next week’s MLB Draft.

“It’s obviously not what we wanted,” Cal Poly senior catcher Elliot Stewart said, “especially after beating USD the first day. We expected to handle it against UCLA, and win it and go to the Super, but overall, it was a great season, and still proud of our guys and proud of all of our performances.”

Jordan Ellis had a run-scoring single for Cal Poly, Mustangs third baseman Jimmy Allen was 3 for 4 with a two-run single, Stewart was 1 for 3 with two RBI, and Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said the weekend was the best three-game approach he’s seen from his hitters all season.

Allen himself was 8 for 13 in the regional, including his first career four-hit game, and totaled two doubles and five RBI.

But the passed ball that ducked through Stewart’s legs in the fifth with runners on first and third was one indication that the Mustangs were not their sharpest defensively.

“I just tried to catch and look at the runner checking back,” Stewart said. “I think I just did that too quick, and I just pulled my eye off it. And of course, it’s the only time that’s really happened like that, and it’s the last game and it means the most, but it’s just the way it goes.”

Mustangs reliever Michael Holback hit the leadoff batter in the sixth, walked the second and watched them both move up a base after he threw a wild pitch.

After the only hit of the inning scored two, Cal Poly freshman first baseman John Schuknecht threw a potential double-play ball wide of second base, and that put runners on second and third.

Holback walked another to load the bases before giving way to sophomore left-hander Taylor Chris.

Chris got NCAA home run leader Kris Bryant to strike out on an outside changeup, but he walked in two runs before recording the final out of the inning.

Troy Conyers “had a hit in there somewhere and we did some good things on the bases,” San Diego coach Rich Hill said. “I think they helped us out a little bit, too.”

It was a disappointment for Cal Poly, which saw its top two relievers, Holback on Sunday and closer Reed Reilly on Saturday, saddled with the Mustangs’ two postseason losses.

“Our strong point during the course of the year was our bullpen,” Lee said. “We had two or three guys that were very reliable, and we went to them time after time. Today was a little bit of a letdown and did not go the way that we had planned as it had gone so many times.”

The most effective reliever of the regional for the Mustangs was junior right-hander Chase Johnson.

The hard-throwing draft prospect was the Mustangs’ closer for the majority of the 2012 season but made just 12 appearances and pitched just 19 innings during this past regular season in a reduced role.

Johnson pitched a perfect inning in each of the first two games and came back to throw 2 1⁄3 scoreless against San Diego on Sunday.

In all, he allowed just one hit and one walk and struck out three.   

“Sometimes players, whether they’re a pitcher or a position player, sometimes they are just not ready at a certain point in the season,” said Lee, who was not confident in Johnson’s control during the season. “You saw that with somebody like Ellis, where he earned his starting spot and ran with it. John Schuknecht wasn’t ready to perform at this level and now is. Not everybody’s on the same developmental process.”

Though the season ends on a sour note, Cal Poly did set a new Division I program record for victories and won its first postseason game since moving up from Division II in 1995.

It was a better experience than their only other trip to a Division I regional, an 0-2 showing in Tempe, Ariz., in 2009.

“It makes me just want to come back even more next year,” Allen said, “and have everyone experience it again, especially the incoming freshmen. It was an unbelievable experience.”

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