Its closer inactive, the Cal Poly baseball team has taken to finishing off games the old-fashioned way.
With complete games from their starters on consecutive nights, the Mustangs took their second straight victory in a weighty three-game Big West Conference series against visiting Cal State Fullerton, beating the No. 8 Titans 4-2 on Friday.
It was a surreal finish for right-hander Steven Fischback, who missed all of the past two seasons recovering from a shoulder injury and pitched his last complete game more than three years ago.
Many of the 1,403 in attendance at Baggett Stadium stood for his final out, and though he bounced a changeup to the plate that allowed an unearned run to score from third in the ninth, Fischback overcame a major doubt he had after surgery to correct a torn labrum.
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“I was just soaking in the moment,” Fischback said. “I don’t know if I ever expected to go nine innings. No, I can answer that. I never expected to go nine innings. Just to get the opportunity was a great feeling.”
Supported by errorless defensive play behind him, Fischback’s complete game was his first victory over a ranked team and helped Cal Poly (18-16, 8-3 Big West) accomplish a feat it hadn’t done in six years.
The last Mustangs to throw back-to-back complete games were Garrett Olson and Jimmy Shull, who did it in 2005 on a staff that also included Gary Daley Jr., Bud Norris and Casey Fien.
Olson, Norris and Fien have all gone on to play in the Major Leagues.
On Friday, Fischback (4-2) allowed only five hits and one earned run while striking out seven and lowering his ERA to 3.60. Of his three walks, two were intentional.
Third baseman Evan Busby and shortstop J.J. Thompson, who saw his 11-game hitting streak snapped, each made diving or leaping plays in the final frame for bang-bang outs at first base.
Radeke scattered 10 hits and struck out eight in a 7-2 win over Cal State Fullerton (27-11, 8-3 Big West) on Thursday.
The victories put the Mustangs into a tie for first place with the Titans. After an extra-innings loss to UC Davis, UC Irvine sits one game back.
“I’ve been here for five years,” said senior designated hitter D.J. Gentile, who batted 1 for 2 with two RBI. “That was unbelievable seeing what Mason did last night and tonight what Fisch did. It just took a lot of stress off our bullpen, having them go complete games back-to-back days.”
Cal Poly closer Jeff Johnson was scratched from the series with elbow tendonitis, so the complete games set up the Mustangs’ No. 3 starter, freshman Chase Johnson, with a full bullpen behind him for today’s 1 p.m. series finale.
Cal State Fullerton took the first lead Friday, breaking a scoreless tie with a run in the sixth inning on an RBI single by Anthony Trajano. Gentile got the run back with a sacrifice fly in the seventh to score Mitch Haniger, who doubled to lead off.
Then, thanks to an error and two bases-loaded walks, Cal Poly collected three unearned runs in the eighth, replicating a Thursday rally where the Mustangs scored four unearned runs to take the lead.
The Mustangs have stretched their winning streak to six games with a chance to jump all alone into first place in the conference today.
For a team that started the season 0-6 and didn’t climb back to .500 until Tuesday, an outstanding conference finish could be Cal Poly’s only key to the postseason.
With five weeks remaining and four more conference series left to play, the Mustangs aren’t looking that far ahead.
But there is no question the Mustangs are hot enough to play with the best.
“We just have that confidence, the entire group,” Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said, “and no matter who we throw out there, they don’t panic. In the first three innings, we had some opportunities that we should have cashed in, and we didn’t panic. And late in the game, we had more opportunities to produce, and we took advantage of it.”