After ace starter Mason Radeke gave up a run in the top of the first inning, the Cal Poly baseball team was looking for a sign that it could hang with Cal State Fullerton.
The Mustangs got it from the most improbable of sources, a former teammate of Radeke’s at Santa Barbara High and the best sacrifice bunter in the country.
Sophomore second baseman Denver Chavez clobbered his first collegiate home run to pull Cal Poly (17-16, 7-3 Big West Conference) even with the front-running Titans, and Radeke pitched his first collegiate complete game to polish off a 7-2 win in the opener of a three-game conference series at Baggett Stadium on Thursday.
“I’m probably the most unlikely guy to hit a home run on the team,” Chavez said. “So, besides putting us back at an even clean slate with Fullerton, I guess it was just a morale boost for the team. If I can go deep, we can all hit with these guys.”
The victory improved Cal Poly’s winning streak to a season-long six games, upped its record against top-25 teams to 4-1 and broke a six-game winning streak by Cal State Fullerton (27-10, 8-2 Big West), which had won 15 of the past 16 and moved up to No. 8 in Baseball America’s top 25.
All nine of the Mustangs’ hitters had a hit, and senior shortstop J.J. Thompson batted 2 for 4 with an RBI in his 14th multi-hit game in the past 21 starts to help humanize a Titans pitching staff that came into the game with a 2.49 ERA.
Keyed by an error and two wild pitches, Cal Poly took control of the game with a four-run fourth inning, but the home run by Chavez — who leads the nation with 0.54 sacrifice bunts per game — was the biggest of them all.
“Takes me back to when Denver was a power hitter in high school,” Radeke said. “That was sweet.
“It just totally switched the momentum. They got a dink hit, and they managed to scrape a run in, and we just go in there, and Denver, one swing, tie ballgame.”
Cal State Fullerton got another run in the fifth on an RBI single by Anthony Trajano, but for the most part, Radeke was able to scatter 10 Titans hits and get out of trouble at will.
Using a four-pitch mix in any count, Radeke (6-1) ended with eight strikeouts and two walks and lowered his ERA to 2.42.
He struck out batters with runners in scoring position to end the third and the fourth innings and didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning until the seventh, when he bewildered Cal State Fullerton cleanup hitter Nick Ramirez with a 3-2 curveball for a strikeout looking.
“That’s what he does and that’s what good pitchers have the ability to do,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said about Radeke’s command over his entire repertoire. “As a hitter, when you can’t sit on a pitch or two or there are no tendencies in any given count, it makes it difficult to feel comfortable.
“He’s 4-0 on Fridays in the Big West, which is a huge accomplishment. He’s really continued to get better with each outing, and he’s able to beat a very, very good Fullerton team.”
The anticipated matchup between Radeke and Fullerton ace Noe Ramirez failed to materialize after Ramirez was held out with an ankle sprain. New information about Mustangs injuries surfaced as well.
Shortstop Mike Miller, the team’s leading hitter at .374, was diagnosed with mononucleosis and is expected to be out for at least three weeks, and closer Jeff Johnson, who had been sitting since throwing nearly seven combined innings in the series against UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, was scratched from the series with elbow tendinitis.
“He felt good today but no sense in bringing him back too early,” Lee said. “He was feeling better with each day, but not good enough to put him back out on the mound.”