Nick Torres came to the plate with the bases loaded. He hit the ball, and four runs scored.
There was an error in there somewhere, so, technically, it wasn’t a grand slam. But it kind of was.
“No, no,” Torres said. “I can’t count that one. I have a conscience.”
Well, it’s as close as the Cal Poly outfielder has ever come to hitting one, and it helped the
No. 3 Mustangs bury visiting Cal State Fullerton in a high-profile clash with the Titans that ended in an 8-0 victory Thursday at Baggett Stadium.
Torres’ RBI single and the ensuing three-run error was part of a six-run fourth inning that blew open a one-run game for Cal Poly (32-5, 9-1 Big West Conference). Starter Matt Imhof and reliever Danny Zandona combined for the first shut out of Cal State Fullerton (18-14, 3-4 Big West) in the Mustangs’ 20-year history at the Division I level.
Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said he was holding Mark Mathias at third on Torres’ hard-hit single to right, but when it bounced past the glove of Tyler Stieb and rolled all the way to the wall, Lee waved everyone home.
Torres looked like he never slowed up once between his initial step out of the box and his feet-first slide into the plate.
Although Imhof kept his golden left arm a safe distance from the ensuing celebration, most everyone else fled the dugout to swarm Torres. Technicality or not, he relished it regardless.
“Because it’s Fullerton,” the junior right fielder said. “We thought we had them beat last year wining the first game, and they kind of swept the series out from under our feet, and then this year it’s been just a completely different story. We’re the one with all the momentum. We’re the one with the target on our back.
“For us to get up that lead and just to keep tacking on was enormous for us.”
It looks like someone will finally unseat the Titans, the four-time defending conference champions, and Cal Poly leads the way.
With UC Irvine (8-1 Big West) playing a nonconference series against San Diego State, the Mustangs moved half a game ahead of the Anteaters into first place.
Already suffering through a subpar season, the Titans came into the weekend in crisis mode.
Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook was placed on administrative leave prior to the game with the university announcing the move to investigate unspecified allegations against the coach.
Citing unnamed sources, collegebaseballdaily.com linked the suspension to alleged player abuse.
Whatever the case, Cal Poly still viewed the Titans as a dangerous opponent. The Mustangs had to prove they could put up runs on a heralded Cal State Fullerton pitching staff, and so far, so good.
Torres was 3 for 5 with a run and three RBI, and second baseman Mathias continued his torrid hitting by going 3 for 5 with three runs. Leading off the bottom of the first, Mathias doubled and eventually scored from third on a single by Brian Mundell, who was 2 for 5 with an RBI to extend two lengthy streaks.
Mundell pushed his hitting streak to 12 games, the longest current streak on the team, and has reached base safely in 33 consecutive games.
Mathias has a nine-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 26 of his past 27 games, hitting .448.
Zach Zehner and Chris Hoo were each 2 for 4, and Jimmy Allen was 2 for 5 as Cal Poly racked up 16 hits and upped the team batting average to .304.
Nine hits and seven runs, four earned, came against Titans starter Justin Garza, who had not started in more than a month because of a shoulder injury but came into the game with a 2.60 ERA and 26 strikeouts compared to just four walks.
Garza lasted only 3 1⁄3 innings and was removed after Torres’ inside-the-park single.
Conversely, Imhof was terrific.
The junior left-hander, projected by some to be a first-round MLB Draft pick this summer, was perfect the first time through the Cal State Fullerton lineup, striking out six in the first three innings.
With two pick-offs in the fourth, Imhof faced just one batter above the minimum through the first five innings and left after 6 1⁄3, allowing two hits and four walks while striking out nine.
Zandona pitched the final 2 2⁄3 innings, allowing two hits and striking out four. He had missed nearly three weeks with an arm injury before a relief appearance against Hawaii last Sunday.
“Fastball command was really good early,” Imhof said. “I could kind of put it where I wanted. I kind of fell behind early, but once I was in a groove, I was able to attack both sides of the plate, and the slider was really put-away early.
“It was just good to see Z back out there. He’s been struggling with some inflammation in his arm. It was awesome to see him back out there and in that last tinning, he looked like the Zandona we’re used to seeing.”