It was a typical Sunday afternoon at Baggett Stadium.
Following the script laid before in a month’s worth of unsatisfying weekend series finales, the Cal Poly baseball team fell behind early and looked listless offensively.
Saturday Night Live ended its season airing Lazy Sunday 2. The Mustangs were already several sequels ahead.
They came into the game with rival UC Santa Barbara looking to sweep the Gauchos but also having lost four of the past five series finales. Even in the lone victory, head coach Larry Lee said the team lacked a sense of urgency.
The trend was so repetitive, it was beginning to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Sometimes we just dig ourselves in a hole. Early in the game, we’ll get down a little bit, and it’s just one of those things where sometimes as a team we press too much,” senior shortstop Mike Miller said. “We don’t let the game come to us. We try to do a little too much, and there’s probably a pattern where we talk about getting out of our approaches on Sundays a lot, and I think that has to do with trying to do too much too early in the game.”
But with Miller playing his final game in Baggett Stadium — and with Cal Poly clutching to a shred of remaining hope for an at-large invitation to an NCAA Regional — the Mustangs bucked their Sunday saddle.
Sophomore third baseman Jimmy Allen had a clutch two-run single, Miller scored the go-ahead run on Senior Day and Cal Poly (33-20, 13-8 Big West Conference) strung together back-to-back four-run rallies in the seventh and eighth innings for a rare come-from-behind 9-8 victory over UC Santa Barbara (24-27, 10-14 Big West) in front of 1,316.
“That was a fun game,” Miller said. “The crowd started getting into it. That really gave us a boost. You could see once we started stringing some hits together, their bullpen got a little rattled out there.”
It was the first victory in 18 games this season where the Mustangs entered the eighth inning trailing on the scoreboard.
Cal Poly was down 7-1 after the Gauchos put up single-run rallies in five of the first seven innings and dropped a two-spot in the fifth.
The Mustangs scored once in the fourth inning but were otherwise punchless until UC Santa Barbara’s pitching ironically jump-started the Cal Poly offense.
After Alex Michaels hit a pinch-hit single to lead off the seventh — his 10th hit in 17 pinch-hit at-bats — Gauchos starter Zak Edgington hit two batters.
UC Santa Barbara pitching has had an effectively wild season. The Gauchos are on pace to smash the program record for strikeouts but also lead the Big West in wild pitches and hit batters.
Edgington hit Denver Chavez and Miller to load the bases. Tim Wise and Mitch Haniger, a junior draft prospect likely playing in his final home game, followed with RBI singles, and Allen and David Armendariz hit sacrifice flies.
The Gauchos went to closer Greg Mahle in the eighth, but he hit Cal Poly catcher Chris Hoo and Haniger, upping the UC Santa Barbara season total to 88 bean balls in a sequence that loaded the bases for Allen.
Cal Poly’s leading hitter with runners in scoring position, Allen jumped on the first pitch he saw for a two-run single to left, improving his numbers to 5 for 7 with 12 RBI with the bases loaded and giving the Mustangs an 8-7 lead.
“I just realized that Mitch got on, it was bases loaded, and I didn’t really think he was going to throw anything out of the zone because obviously he doesn’t want to walk in the winning run,” Allen said. “You’ve got to try and get me out.
“He hung a changeup and I just put a good swing on it.”
Armendariz added an insurance run with an RBI single in the next at-bat. Cal Poly needed it.
UC Santa Barbara got a run against Mustangs closer Chase Johnson in the ninth, but the Gauchos ran into a shocking game-ending double play when Armendariz made a running catch for a fly out next to the fence in foul ground and easily threw out catcher Bryce Tafelski as he tried to tag up from second.
“I was completely surprised,” Allen said. “I was just so pumped that Dave caught it and we got two outs. I don’t want to feel bad saying this, but I forgot there was a runner on second. Luckily, Dave’s got a good arm, good throw to get him out and I got there in time.”
The victory opened the door for the Mustangs to possibly share the Big West title. Cal Poly would need to sweep UC Riverside on the road next weekend, and Long Beach State would have to take two of three from Cal State Fullerton to force a three-way tie.
The Mustangs are mathematically eliminated from earning the conference’s automatic berth to the postseason, but they’re hoping three more wins would be enough to garner an invitation.
“If you compare our resume with anybody that is vying for an at-large bid, we’re as good as anyone,” Lee said, “and in my mind, we’ve put ourselves as the second team in the Big West because of our overall record, and hopefully we’ll end up in that upper echelon of the Big West when the season’s over.”