The time has come for the Cal Poly baseball team to make its move if the Mustangs want any chance to defend last year’s Big West Conference crown — the only way to extend an NCAA postseason streak to three seasons.
On the strength of junior ace Casey Bloomquist, Cal Poly started the final month of the regular season on the right foot.
The right-hander nearly went the distance in another solid start, Cal Poly turned two CSUN errors into three unearned runs and three Mustangs had multi-hit games in a 6-2 series-opening win over the Matadors on Friday at Baggett Stadium.
“Obviously, we need to win the Big West, and that’s it,” said senior center fielder Jordan Ellis, who was 2 for 3 with two runs. “We need to win the rest of these games, really, to stand a chance. And we need the right teams to lose, too.”
Cal Poly (20-22, 8-5) entered the weekend just one game back in the loss column of conference leader UC Irvine (11-4), but looking up at a logjam of three teams with four Big West defeats — two of which (UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton) won two of three over the Mustangs.
“It’s more like we’re two games out,” head coach Larry Lee said. “We can’t afford to be co-champs or anything like that. We have to win it outright.”
Bloomquist continued to do his part, picking up his fifth winning decision after an 0-2 start. The returning All-American went 82⁄3 innings with six hits, two runs — both earned in the fourth — two walks and seven strikeouts in his first year as the team’s Friday starter.
“They wanted to swing at fastballs,” said Bloomquist, who lowered his ERA to 2.96, “so I just tried to attack offspeed early in the count, and then just kind of pitched backwards and went from there.”
He was an out away from his second complete game of the season, but a walk to pinch-hitter Albee Weiss put his pitch count at 131.
Reliever Danny Zandona issued a walk of his own before striking out Elias Orona to end the game.
“He was very good tonight,” Lee said of Bloomquist, “and that’s exactly what you want from your Friday starter. It just sets the tone for the rest of the weekend.”
After a third-inning Mark Mathias triple to left-center scored John Schuknecht to open the scoring, Bloomquist got into the lone danger inning of his outing. Back-to-back doubles and a bloop single put the Matadors ahead 2-1, but it was a short-lived lead.
Zack Zehner and Ellis singled before Ryan Drobny fought off an inside pitch to push it out to left field with two outs. Zehner would’ve scored regardless, but the left fielder, Orona, lost the bouncing ball in the setting sun or plain missed it, allowing Ellis to score and Drobny to move to third.
He came home one batter later to make it 4-2 when CSUN starter Calvin Copping’s 1-2 pitch to Schuknecht was wild and went to the backstop.
No. 9 hitter Tommy Pluschkell got a hit for the sixth straight game, singling to left field in the sixth to score a sliding Brett Barbier ahead of the throw. Pluschkell added an RBI sacrifice bunt for an extra insurance run in the eighth that scored Ellis, who led off the inning with a triple.
The triple from Mathias extended his hitting streak to 12 games — the longest for Cal Poly this season, and Peter Van Gansen and Barbier both went 2 for 4.
Freshman Kyle Smith (4-5, 3.57) takes the mound at 6 p.m. today to give Cal Poly a chance to clinch the series. The Mustangs will likely need to sweep the Matadors (26-18, 5-11) for the third straight season before next weekend’s crucial series at Irvine.
“You can’t afford to look ahead,” Lee said, “but you know what you have to do to finish this thing the right way.”