Matt Imhof had a record-tying performance in his debut as the staff ace for the Cal Poly baseball team, and Jimmy Allen made a splash in more ways than one as the Mustangs opened the season with a 3-0 victory over nationally ranked Kansas State on Friday.
Imhof, a junior left-hander who was named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list earlier in the day, tied the Division I single-game program record with 14 strikeouts.
Wielding an overpowering fastball, Imhof struck out 10 in the first five innings and fanned the side in the seventh to tie Mason Radeke and Mike Zirelli for the record in the first Friday night start of his career and against the visiting No. 22 Wildcats.
“I wanted to attack early, kind of set a tone,” Imhof said. “I was going fastball-slider early and just kind of getting ahead on the count and giving me some opportunities to bury some guys early.”
Imhof was unaware of the record “until after they announced it,” he said, “and I was like, ‘I wish I really would have got one more.’ I expect more of the same the rest of the year. I just want to attack. Records are records, but I just want to win games.”
Zirelli had 14 strikeouts in eight innings against Temple in 1999. Radeke did it in nine innings against Valparaiso in 2011. Imhof hit the first batter he faced in the eighth before being replaced by closer Reed Reilly.
Imhof gave up two hits and walked three in his seven shutout innings. He is still well off the all-time record. Dick Jacquier struck out 19 in a 28-1 victory over Westmont in 1950.
But Imhof backed up the hype that’s earned a label as a top prospect coming into the year.
“Matt’s one of the better pitchers in college baseball,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “He was really good tonight. He had his fastball going. He was hammering that outer half of the plate. His breaking ball was OK, but the majority of his strikeouts were with his fastball.”
It was still in doubt whether Imhof’s effort would be enough to win deep into the game.
Kansas State starter Levi MaVorhis matched him on the scoreboard through five scoreless innings.
The Wildcats went to the bullpen in the sixth, and that’s when Cal Poly struck.
Allen, a senior third baseman who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 23rd round of MLB Draft last summer, drove in the first two runs on a single to center with one out and the bases loaded.
Mark Mathias walked with the bases loaded to score an insurance run.
Jordan Ellis was the lone Cal Poly player with multiple hits, going 2 for 4 with a run. Tim Wise and Brian Mundell were each 1 for 3 with a run, and Allen was 1 for 4 with two RBI.
It was a clutch hit for Allen, who to that point had earned raves from the Baggett Stadium crowd for his new walk-up song, the 2008 single “Jimmy Recard” by Australian rapper Drapht.
The ditty samples a classic Boogie Down Productions song that spells out J-I-M-M-Y and announces, “It’s Jimmy!”
Allen picked up the song from a teammate during a successful summer collegiate baseball stint with the San Luis Obispo Blues where he hit .277 with seven doubles, a home run, 16 RBI, six steals and helped the Blues advance into the National Baseball Congress World Series.
Imhof might have had the best summer of all. After Cal Poly was eliminated in the Los Angeles Regional, Imhof successfully tried out for Team USA’s collegiate-level team and shined.
He was 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA in six appearances, striking out 18 batters in 17 innings.
That propelled him into Friday night’s performance.
“The summer really helped his confidence,” Allen said, “He worked really hard and found out more about himself as a player, and he’s come back this year with so much more competitiveness and leadership that it just propels him to be the best pitcher he can be.”
Now, Cal Poly is hoping another victory or two over the Wildcats will help propel its season in a similar manner to last year.
In 2013, the Mustangs took two of three at Kansas State and benefitted in the RPI as the Wildcats made a strong run to the Super Regionals.
That series win played a key role in Cal Poly earning only the program’s second Division I postseason berth.
Freshman starter Slater Lee will take the mound in game two of the series today at 6 p.m. before sophomore Casey Bloomquist starts Sunday at 1 p.m.
“It a hundred percent makes this series important,” Imhof said. “You always want to get your wins against ranked teams because you don’t always get an opportunity to play them. It was really good for us to get the win tonight, have an opportunity to win the series early tomorrow and hopefully go for a sweep because that will set the bar high for us for the entire year.”