LOS ANGELES — It was the worst possible time to lose a ball in the twilight or the best time of day to loft one into the night sky — depending on your loyalties.
Whatever the case, the Cal Poly baseball team could never recover.
Mustangs rightfielder Nick Torres lost track of a deep fly in the sixth inning, realizing only too late that the drive by UCLA’s Kevin Williams would carry over his head for a hit.
It wasn’t the play that cost Cal Poly (40-18) a 6-4 defeat to the Bruins (41-17) in the second game at the Los Angeles Regional on Saturday night, but it allowed three runs to score and definitely turned the momentum in the host team’s favor at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
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“It just got above the lights, and I had no idea where it was,” Torres said about a ball that even Williams said he failed to see off the bat. “Everybody else said they couldn’t see it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”
Instead of taking a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, Cal Poly lost its lead completely, and after racking up eight hits in the first four innings, the Mustangs were shut out over the final five frames.
And instead of needing to win one more game to advance to next weekend’s Super Regional round, Cal Poly will have to win three straight over the next two days to emerge from here.
The collapse spoiled a terrific start by sophomore lefty pitcher Matt Imhof, who had a no-hitter with just one walk through the first five innings against a UCLA lineup with five left-handed hitters before things fell apart in the sixth.
Imhof allowed a leadoff double to Pat Gallagher, and Brenton Allen followed with a single.
Imhof hit Brian Carroll to load the bases before Kevin Kramer got the Bruins on the board with a sacrifice fly.
After Eric Filia reloaded the bases with an infield single, Lee went to Cal Poly closer Reed Reilly to get out of the jam.
Reilly nearly did it too, striking out Pat Valika and getting Williams to apparently fly out to right before Torres’ miscue gave the Bruins new life.
They took the lead after loading the bases again in the seventh with one out against Reilly, and Filia drove on in with another infield single. Reilly walked in another.
Imhof was charged with four runs on three hits in 5 1⁄3 innings, striking out five and walking the one. Reilly got the loss after giving up two runs on four hits while striking out and walking two apiece.
Imhof said he thought UCLA began picking his pitches after mowing through the first five innings, but Williams said he was unaware if Imhof was tipping his intentions.
“That would have been nice,” Williams said, “but we didn’t have any tipped pitches or any verbals or anything. We just tried to compete at the plate, and luckily we came out with the win.”
The Mustangs were riding high after beating San Diego 9-2 on Friday, and it showed early on.
Torres hit a sacrifice fly to score Denver Chavez in the first, and Jimmy Allen drove in Jordan Ellis with an RBI double, Allen’s fifth hit in his first six at-bats of the regional.
Chavez was 2 for 4 with two runs, Ellis was 2 for 5, David Armendariz had an RBI single in the third inning, and Torres added one in the fourth to finish 1 for 2 with two RBI and a walk.
To start the game, Cal Poly’s confidence was “extremely high,” Torres said. “With this matchup, we’ve been waiting for this for weeks now, and with Imhof on the mound, we really liked our chances.”
The fate of today’s first game will be in the hands of true freshman right-hander Casey Bloom-quist in a rematch against San Diego, which Joey Wagman was able to frustrate Friday.
“Joey and Casey are kind of two completely different types of pitchers,” Lee said, “so we’ve been able to call a game according to Casey’s strengths because that’s what he does best at this point being a freshman.”
Bloomquist racked up a 6-2 record and 4.78 ERA primarily pitching as the Mustangs’ mid-week starter before moving to the weekend for the final two regular-season series.
The winner of the 2 p.m. game between the Mustangs and Toreros will advance to play UCLA in the second game of the doubleheader today.
Should Cal Poly or San Diego beat the host Bruins, the deciding game will be played Monday.
Lee said Wagman might be available for an inning come Monday, but not much more.
The Mustangs would have to find a fill-in should they make it to today’s nightcap. The start could go to senior Kyle Brueggemann, who was a weekend starter to begin the season but has since been moved out of the rotation.
Brueggemann was 1-0 with a 6.35 ERA in 17 innings this season. Bryan Granger, who made 13 Sunday starts, was 5-4 with a 5.37 ERA.
Aside from Wagman, Imhof, Bloomquist, Granger and Brueggemann, no other Cal Poly pitcher has started a game.
“Don’t know,” Lee said when asked about the pitching plan after Bloomquist. “Just take that first game and see. You win at all costs from now on, just try to survive and get to the next game. You really can’t think ahead.”