The pea soup fog rolled in from the coast and settled on Baggett Stadium.
An atypically large crowd was bellowing rally cries. And the outcome rested on Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee’s freshman catcher.
Moments before he delivered the game-winning hit in a 5-4 nonconference victory over nationally ranked Fresno State on Tuesday, Chris Hoo fell behind 0-2 against Bulldogs reliever Charlie Robertson, making it look like the Mustangs’ recent hot streak was coming to an end.
“It was just like, ‘Oh no, I’m down 0-2,’ ” said Hoo, who hadn’t been in nearly as big a spot in any of his previous 21 collegiate at-bats, “and then I hear coach Lee just say ‘flush it and get the next one.’ I just took a breather, took a couple breaths, cleared my mind and stepped into the box looking for the next pitch.”
The next pitch Hoo wanted was a 2-2 slider that he ripped to center field after steeling his nerves to watch two outside pitches go by for balls.
It was a poise that seemed uncommon for a true freshman batting with the game on the line against a team ranked 12th in the country by Baseball America.
“I’ve never seen a freshman do that. That was unbelievable,” said senior shortstop J.J. Thompson, who was 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI. “He deserves success. He’s good, and he’s going to be a good player later on.”
Said Lee: “He’s ready. He’s been ready. Chris has some of the best swing mechanics on our entire team, and it allows him a chance to hit better pitching. He barreled up two balls in his two at-bats.
“He has the right mindset. He has that ‘it’ that you talk about as a ballplayer, and there’s a calmness about him that allows him to have a chance to be successful.”
The two-run single by Hoo, who upped his average to .217 with a 2-for-2 effort off the bench, gave Cal Poly (16-16) its first lead of the game and helped the Mustangs complete a two-game season sweep of Fresno State (25-6), which has lost to only three other teams all year. Despite seeing a four-game streak with 10 or more hits fall by the wayside, second-place Cal Poly (6-3 Big West Conference) pushed its winning streak to five games heading into a Big West showdown with visiting conference front-runner Cal State Fullerton (27-9, 8-1 Big West), which starts Thursday at 6 p.m.
Bulldogs fans helped bolster Tuesday’s announced attendance to 1,578 — a season high and the largest crowd at Baggett since the 2009 regular-season finale — and for most of the game, it appeared that Fresno State would atone for the 11-4 loss it received from the Mustangs in Fresno on March 1.
Rotating pitchers on an almost inning-to-inning basis, the Bulldogs took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh and had limited Cal Poly to just three hits.
Ensuring his 13th multi-hit game in his past 20 starts, Thompson got a run back by driving in Mitch Haniger with a double to the wall in center in the seventh.
Then in the eighth, Cal Poly parlayed four walks, an error and Hoo’s hit into a four-run rally. Striking out two, reliever Frankie Reed was perfect over the final 12⁄3 innings to earn his second career victory.
After being sidelined for 21 games with a wrist injury, Matt Jensen returned to go 1 for 3 with a walk and a run, and Lee held out closer Jeff Johnson in anticipation of the series with the Titans.
Beating a team with an RPI ranking in the top 15 looks impressive, but the Mustangs did not delve too deep into any implications.
“I means we’re on a hot streak,” Thompson said. “Everyone’s doing everything right. The hard work is paying off. We put in stupid hours outside the game, and everything’s starting to click.
“This is just another piece of swagger. It feels good beating guys in a row and feeling like you’re untouchable, especially going into the series with Fullerton. It’s exactly what we needed.”