Cal Poly’s baseball program clinched its first Big West Conference title Sunday with a 3-2 victory at Cal State Northridge.
The Mustangs (45-10, 19-5 Big West) celebrated their regular-season finale by clinching an NCAA Tournament bid along with the conference crown.
Cal Poly junior right-handers Danny Zandona and Reed Reilly engineered the historic win, with Zandona earning his second victory of the week and Reilly picking up a two-inning save.
“It takes time. You keep grinding,” Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said in a phone interview of winning the program’s first title in the Big West, one of the nation’s top conferences on a perennial basis.
“Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine and others, to try to get in their neighborhood, it takes time. This is a special group that really took what they had learned from last year and getting into the postseason, and used that experience as motivation and a calming effect. They understood what it was going to take individually and as a team to give us a chance. I couldn’t be happier for the guys.”
Reilly, who picked up his 10th save, secured the final two outs, grinding through a bases-loaded jam in the ninth by inducing A.B. Blanchet to hit into a game-ending groundout to first base.
“The way it ended, it was a great feeling,” Lee said. “Everybody’s extremely happy. It’s good to get (the title) over with. It was a pretty stressful last couple days.”
Cal Poly clinched the title outright about 20 minutes after its game, when Cal State Fullerton completed a sweep of the biggest threat to the crown, UC Irvine.
The Mustangs are headed to an NCAA regional for the third time in the past five years, but they have a higher profile than ever this year.
Cal Poly, which is ranked No. 6 by Baseball America, is reportedly a favorite to host a regional.
Regional hosts will be announced Sunday on ESPN, and the full NCAA field will be unveiled May 26 on ESPNU.
“Now we have higher expectations, and our players understand that,” Lee said. “We’re hoping this is just the first step.”
Zandona pitched 3 1⁄3 scoreless innings of relief, allowing one hit with a strikeout.
“We’ve had Danny step up and get us important outs,” Lee said.
Cal Poly starter Justin Calomeni pitched 3 2⁄3 innings, allowing one run on three hits.
Chris Hoo went 2 for 4 with an RBI for the Mustangs, who also got an RBI each from Peter Van Gansen (two walks) and John Schuknecht. Mark Mathias added a double for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly won its first conference title since it claimed the California Collegiate Athletic Association crown in 1994, when the school was in its final year with an NCAA Division II profile.