Cal Poly tore more than 15,000 tickets at Baggett Stadium this past weekend, and even though the Mustangs baseball team failed living up to projections, the people who attended the games left a lasting memory.
Members of the team hope they did the same.
Cal Poly (47-12) ended the season with the most wins in program history and its first Big West Conference title. The two regional victories, both over Sacramento State, were the most the Mustangs have had in three regional appearances.
And even though hosting a regional for the first time didn’t result in a first-ever Super Regional berth, Cal Poly credited the home crowd and it’s rich, thunderous and synchronized chants of the top-seeded school’s name for helping fully erase a five-run deficit in what became Sunday’s 10-6 championship loss to third-seeded Pepperdine.
“It was actually fueling us,” junior rightfielder Nick Torres said. “We were thriving off the crowd’s energy. That’s the main thing that everybody was talking about in the dugout. How crazy was this that we’re playing in front of all these people and how loud it was.
“The closer we got, the louder fans got, and that just kept us rolling.”
Torres seemed particularly energized. He drove in three of the Mustangs’ six runs and hit a solo home run to cut the Waves’ lead to 6-4 in the seventh inning.
And he wasn’t alone.
Senior third-baseman Jimmy Allen came back to the team just for another crack at the postseason after being drafted in the 23rd round by the Boston Red Sox last year. He hit a solo home run in the fourth and was 3 for 5 with two runs.
All-America second-baseman Mark Mathias had four hits, bullpen star Reed Reilly finished off both ends of the Sunday doubleheader, and lefty bullpen counterpart Taylor Chris had a career-long 100-pitch outing that kept Cal Poly in the game when many would have left the Mustangs for dead.
Additionally in the weekend, ace and MLB Draft early-round prospect Matt Imhof pitched a gem. So did All-American Casey Bloomquist (12-2), who took a hard-luck loss on an unearned run.
The entire weekend passed by as if it was a roll call of the team’s leaders taking bows in front of an appreciative fan base.
“There’s a lot of players who had their fingerprints on the success of our season,” 12th-year Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “What’s most recent in my thoughts is just the backing of the community, how electric the environment was here, where each successive game got louder and louder. It was just a sad note to end on. It had a lot of great team moments or team accomplishments throughout the season, and we’re continuing to do things that we haven’t done at the Division I level, and you just hope that we can maintain that consistency.”
The Mustangs have now made back-to-back regional appearances for the first time, and when they ascended to the top of one of the major national polls for a week earlier this season, it was something accomplished only once before in the Division I history of the athletic department and never before by any of the major men’s sports.
Maintaining that consistency will be somewhat of a challenge with the expected turnover caused by the MLB Draft, which starts Thursday.
Imhof, Reilly and Torres could be drafted in the first two days, which will encompass the first 10 rounds. Allen and catcher Chris Hoo are seniors who were both four-year starters and should be drafted as well.
Chris and fellow junior Zack Zehner, the starting left fielder, are also draft eligible and had performances worthy of a selection this past season. Lee is hoping each of them decides to return because each would figure on filling an even more valuable role next season.
“You want to try to reload, not rebuild,” Lee said, “but its out of your hands when it comes to the Major League Draft. We get hurt every year, but you just still want to have some key components return.”
No matter who returns and who leaves to play professionally, there’s no certainty the Mustangs will be able to replicate the feats of the past season.
The hope for Cal Poly is certainly that the program is able to continue its winning tradition and turn the repeat regional appearances into a bona fide streak.
It does seem certain that the current crop of players and its seasoned head coach have moved past the stage where the program lacked the name recognition to earn the benefit of the doubt from NCAA selection committees of years past.
The perception of Cal Poly baseball is transformed, even if it was obscured by the immediacy of Sunday’s heartbreak.
“It was tough that night,” Torres said. “It was hard, especially to some of us older guys who’ve really been here since the beginning of the program stepping up.
“I just kind of sat in the dugout and looked at the field for a while and tried to take in everything and look back at how fortunate I’ve been to play in the program and all the memories over the years.
“It’s not something that’s going to go away overnight. I still feel heartache, but at the same time, I’m proud of the things we’ve accomplished.”