The scoring margin was slim. The impact is substantial.
The Cal Poly baseball team fell 3-2 in its Big West Conference game with UC Irvine on Sunday, also dropping the series with the second-place Anteaters, 2-1, and falling even farther behind the conference leader with little time to recover.
With an at-large berth to an NCAA regional unlikely because of a middling 21-21 overall record, the Mustangs (10-8) need to overtake both UC Irvine (31-13, 10-5 Big West) and first-place Cal State Fullerton (14-4 Big West) to get the automatic bid awarded to the regular-season conference champion.
With the two losses this weekend to UC Irvine, which is unranked by Baseball America but comes in at No. 23 by another poll recognized by the NCAA, Cal Poly falls four games behind the Titans with only six more left in Big West play.
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The Mustangs are not mathematically eliminated yet, but they would need monumental collapses by the two teams ahead of them in addition to ending the season on a near-perfect run to stay that fate.
In Sunday’s loss, which was televised by ESPNU, Cal Poly took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when sophomore right fielder Mitch Haniger hit a solo home run. It was Haniger’s third of the season and second of the series.
The Anteaters got to Mustangs starting pitcher Chase Johnson and took the lead with two runs in the bottom of the third, scoring on back-to-back two-out doubles by Sean Madigan and Brian Hernandez.
When UC Irvine loaded the bases with one out against Johnson in the fourth, Cal Poly reliever Joey Wagman came on to work out of the jam without allowing a run, but the Anteaters got what turned out to be the deciding score on an RBI single by Jordan Leyland against Wagman in the fifth.
With no out and runners on first and third for the Mustangs in the ninth inning, Haniger got into a rundown after a pickoff attempt at first base, and while J.J. Thompson scored from third, Haniger was cut down to clear the bases.
UC Irvine pitcher Andrew Thurman struck out Matt Jensen and Elliot Stewart to end the game.
Thompson, Jensen and Bobby Crocker had two hits apiece for Cal Poly, and Haniger batted 3 for 4 to raise his season average to .260, but the rest of the lineup failed to reach base and combined to bat 0 for 19.
The Mustangs visit St. Mary’s on Tuesday for a 3 p.m. nonconference game and return to Baggett Stadium on Friday for their final home series of the season against UC Davis.
SOFTBALLCal Poly 6, UC Davis 2
The visiting Mustangs moved out of the Big West basement with their second series victory of the season.
Senior Anna Cahn hit her conference-leading 14th home run to back a complete-game five-hitter by sophomore pitcher Rebecca Patton a day after the teams split a doubleheader.
Cahn tied former Cal Poly first baseman Krysten Cary for second place on the program’s single-season home run list and was the only player with multiple hits for the Mustangs (10-34, 6-12 Big West), who are now one game ahead of UC Riverside for last place.
Patton (8-18) struck out five and retired six of the final eight Aggies she faced to silence any comeback effort.