When Cal Poly is named a regional host for the NCAA baseball tournament today, it will mark a watershed moment for a program that has been on the rise for more than a decade while working to win respect from a selection committee that hadn’t paid them much attention until recent years.
But there’s no ignoring the Mustangs any longer, not after a 2014 season that has seen them post a 45-10 record, earn a mid-season No. 1 ranking from one poll, win their first-ever Big West title, and finish as the No. 5 team in the nation heading into the playoffs.
How good is this team? They have had six winning streaks of four games or more. They are 27-3 at home, meaning 90 percent of the time fans have watched a game at Baggett Stadium, it’s ended in victory.
They swept perennial powerhouse Cal State Fullerton and tossed in two shutouts in the process. They only lost one series all season, to Long Beach State on the road. They finished 19-5 in conference, won nine of their last 10 games, and will send to the mound a top-two pitching duo that has posted a combined 21-5 record.
And yet knowing all that, respected source Baseball America still listed them as a bubble team to host a regional. That is a joke, and their writer acknowledged as much in the comments following the online article.
Let’s see, 16 teams get to host the four-team opening-round mini-tournaments that start the postseason. How would the No. 5 team in the nation and by far the top team in California not get one of those spots?
If that were to happen, it would be an epic snub exceeding what occurred in 2005 and 2012, when deserving Cal Poly teams were left out of the tournament entirely despite finishing second in the conference.
But that was then and this is now, and barring total NCAA ineptitude, three teams will make the trip to San Luis Obispo this week for a first-round weekend whirlwind that will reduce the initial field of 64 down to 16 in four days.
In preparation for this eventuality, Cal Poly brought in two new bleacher sections, increasing the stadium’s seating capacity to 2,472 from 1,734. If the last home series with UC Irvine is any indication, those seats will fill up fast and several hundred additional fans won’t have to rise to their feet to cheer a rally because they’ll already be standing.
Here’s hoping there’s a lot of that come Friday. The road to Omaha and the College World Series has never gone through SLO before. But it’s looking like it will this year, which is both a fantastic opportunity for baseball fans and a distinct advantage for the home team.
Mustang Madness didn’t end with the Cal Poly basketball team’s thrilling run into that NCAA tournament. It was just getting started.
Joe Tarica is senior editor for The Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joetarica.