FULLERTON — The recent clutch-hitting woes disappeared in a big way for the Cal Poly baseball team Saturday.
A two-run, pinch-hit home run by Alex Michaels with two outs in the eighth inning was Cal Poly’s third two-out homer of the game and proved to be the difference in the Mustangs’ 8-6 victory over first-place Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference contest at Goodwin Field.
“That’s what we’ve been lacking as of late,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “It was a great college baseball game with some great clutch hitting. We talked about creating opportunities and cashing in. Hopefully this’ll carry over into (today).”
The home run was Michaels’ first of the season as well as the freshman’s sixth pinch-hit, matching the Mustangs’ team total for pinch hits last season.
“He’s hands down our best pinch hitter,” Lee said of Michaels, whose playing time has been limited as he recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in high school. “He’s in the running for a starting job.”
Cal State Fullerton freshman reliever Willie Kuhl (2-3), who had a career-high eight strikeouts in 3 2⁄3 innings, had struck out four in a row before Chris Hoo ignited the eighth-inning rally with a double off the wall in left. Michaels then drilled a shot just inside the right field foul poll.
“I was just trying to approach it like any other at-bat,” Michaels said. “I tried to be aggressive early in the count. The scouting report said he had a good slider, so I was sitting on that . . . As soon as I hit it I was just saying, ‘Stay fair, stay fair.’ ” The home run made a winner of Cal Poly reliever Reed Reilly (3-1), who allowed one hit in four shutout innings.
The Mustangs, who threatened again with two outs in the ninth before leaving the bases loaded, took their first lead of the series on a pair of three-run homers in the fifth inning.
A two-out shot to left-center by Mitch Haniger put Cal Poly up 3-2. Another three-run blast by Nick Torres provided a 6-2 cushion in an inning in which the Mustangs sent nine batters to the plate.
“We like to start off early,” Michaels said, “but we’ll take them with two outs. It was good clutch hitting tonight.”
Haniger and Mike Miller both finished with three hits for the Mustangs (22-15, 6-5). Tim Wise, David Armendariz and Tommy Pluschkell each had two of Cal Poly’s 16 hits.
The Titans (25-13, 8-3) quickly erased any Cal Poly momentum in the bottom half of the fifth. Michael Lorenzen cut the Mustangs’ lead to 6-4 with a two-run double that was the Titans’ third consecutive two-out hit.
After a hit batter, Ivory Thomas drove in two runs with a triple to left center to tie it. Cal Poly had a chance to regain the lead in the sixth, but Mike Miller was stranded at third after doubling and advancing on a wild pitch.
Cal State Fullerton took the initial lead with two unearned runs in the fourth inning, ending a streak of eight consecutive batters retired by Mustangs starter Kyle Anderson.
Lorenzen started the Titans’ rally when he reached on an error by shortstop Mike Miller. Matt Chapman followed with a double off the glove of a diving Armendariz in left. A flare to center by Thomas scored Lorenzen, and Chapman scored on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Hutting for a 2-0 lead.
Anderson went five innings, allowing six runs on eight hits with three strikeouts. Lorenzen, Thomas and Carlos Lopez led Fullerton with two hits each. Cal Poly, which fell 6-1 in Friday’s series opener, remains in third place entering this afternoon’s series finale.
“This is a big win for us,” Michaels said. “But as a team we want to get the series win. That would mean a lot to us against a team like this.”
Big West Baseball standings
Big West games All games
W L W L
CS Fullerton 8 3 25 13
Long Beach 8 3 17 19
Cal Poly 6 5 22 15
UCSB 6 5 20 17
UC Irvine 5 6 20 15
Northridge 4 5 16 20
UC Davis 3 5 14 20
UC Riverside 3 5 13 19
Pacific 1 7 11 26
Cal Poly 8, Cal State Fullerton 6; Long Beach State 4, UC Irvine 3; UC Santa Barbara 9, Pacific 2; UC Riverside 7, UC Davis 6.