The game Casey Bloomquist pitched in the Los Angeles Regional last year seems to be the lost outing for the Cal Poly baseball team.
Everyone remembers the Mustangs losing to eventual national champion UCLA the night before and the drama surrounding that collapse. Even the opening game of the regional — a victory over NCAA home run king Kris Bryant and San Diego — was notable for being Cal Poly’s first Division I postseason victory in program history.
The game Bloomquist started, a three-run loss to the Toreros that eliminated the Mustangs, doesn’t get referenced nearly as much as the other two, but it fueled the Cal Poly sinkerballer right into an astonishing breakout season.
The right-hander upped his winning streak to start the season to six with a 9-1 victory over UC Davis on Sunday that completed a three-game sweep by the No. 5 Mustangs (23-4) over the Aggies (12-12) in the Big West Conference-opening series at Baggett Stadium.
Bloomquist allowed just one unearned run on four hits and a walk while striking out six through eight innings.
In the season-ending 8-5 regional loss to San Diego last June, Bloomquist gave up three runs in the first three innings before giving way to the bullpen. Cal Poly came back to tie it at three by the middle of the fifth but gave up five more runs over the next two innings and couldn’t recover.
“After losing in a regional, it was something that just kind of followed me all offseason,” Bloomquist said.
“Just the fact of asking myself ‘what if?’ I only went three innings. What would have happened if I went those few extra innings and we held them and we won?
“It’s just something that just always kind of stands out in my mind. You never want to have any regrets when you’re pitching.”
So, Bloomquist worked hard on improving his sinker, which he can now work to both sides of the plate. He’s improved his secondary pitches, a biting slider and a change-up with movement, to become more effective.
He’s also gotten better at executing the gameplan of head coach Larry Lee, who selected Bloomquist for Sunday duty because the coach knows he can keep the ball down when the wind whips out to left field during day games. Friday and Saturday games are typically played at night when the ball usually does not carry as much.
“I just feel like he’s more confident on the mound,” sophomore shortstop Peter Van Gansen said, “and we feel we have lots of confidence in him. He’s just keeping the ball down, getting ground balls for us, and we’re just making the plays for him.”
Pitching largely in midweek games before a promotion to the weekend for the final two weeks of the regular season last year, Bloomquist put together an impressive 6-2 record despite carrying a 5.02 ERA.
The wins have kept coming this season, but everything else has improved.
In eight starts this year, Bloomquist has his ERA down to 1.48. He’s walked only eight and struck out 33 in 42 2⁄3 innings, and despite hitters putting the ball in play against him, batters are hitting just .229 and have gotten just six extra-base hits.
Bloomquist has marked development even in the past few weeks, Lee said.
“He’s been a different guy than he was in the first couple outings of the year,” Lee said. “So now it’s allowed him to take his performance to another level.
“He’s a legit three-pitch guy now, able to utilize both sides of the plate, able to get both right- and left-handed hitters out. It was one component of our success that we needed to happen, and he’s taking care of his part of that equation.”
The other part is at the plate, and Cal Poly is proving it has a complete lineup.
Against UC Davis on Sunday, Mark Mathias, Ryan Drobny and Van Gansen combined for seven hits, including two triples, five RBI and four runs hitting sixth, seventh and eighth in the order.
No. 9 hitter Chris Hoo walked four times and scored a run.
Mathias, who’s mainly hit between sixth and seventh for most of the season, now leads the team with a .378 batting average and a .450 on-base percentage.
The bottom half of the Mustangs’ lineup is reminding opponents that there is more to the team than heavy hitters like Nick Torres, Brian Mundell and Jimmy Allen, who also combined for five hits, three RBI and four runs.
“Everyone knows about Brian Mundell and Nick Torres,” Bloomquist said, “but in all reality, they’re so focused on them, they forget about the guys at the bottom of our lineup, who are just as dangerous as we see them. They’re willing to get on the plate and wear it and get on base, which is what we need and set the table of our leaders.”
Mathias extended his hitting streak to 17 games by going 3 for 4 with a triple, two runs and three RBI. Van Gansen also had three hits, scoring and driving in one each. Drobny was 1 for 5 with an RBI triple.
Mundell was 2 for 3 with two runs and one RBI, and Allen was 2 for 5 with a solo home run, his first of the season. Torres was 1 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.
Cal Poly nearly had its second straight shutout, if not for an error by Brett Barbier, filling in for Torres in right to start the sixth. The Aggies’ Seth Batty hit a fly to right that went off Barbier and bounced into foul ground.
Batty reached second on the play, was sacrificed to third and singled in by Adam Young with one out.
Barbier entered the game after Torres was ejected for criticizing the umpire after striking out looking in the bottom of the fifth. By rule, Torres will miss Tuesday’s 6 p.m. home game against CSU Bakersfield but is eligible to return for the weekend series against visiting UC Santa Barbara, which was ranked No. 15 this week.
A crowd of 2,039 was in attendance Sunday, and with students returning from spring break, that figure could grow significantly for the series with the rival Gauchos.
“It’s great to see the community come out and get to see some good baseball,” Lee said. “It’s more enjoyable for our players to come out and see bigger crowds.”