Last season, the Cal Poly baseball team won seven of its first eight games and 14 of its final 17 before being one of the last teams left out of the NCAA regionals.
Following Friday’s 2-1 home-opening victory over Seattle, the Mustangs are 5-0. It’s their best start under 11th-year head coach Larry Lee, and they’re one win away from having the best start in the Division I era at Cal Poly.
But with three one-run victories in those five games, the Mustangs are not far off from yielding similar results to the 15-16 midseason stretch that sank their postseason résumé in 2012.
With six returning starters in the field and a veteran-led pitching staff, Cal Poly is well aware of that fact.
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“It’s just kind of take every inning, every game with the same focus as the most important game,” senior starting pitcher Joey Wagman said. “It’s easy in baseball to sometimes hit a lull. We just have to fight to keep focus and play the best baseball that we can.”
Wagman earned his second win of the season, shutting out the Redhawks (1-4) through six innings, allowing two hits and striking out eight.
All he was focused on after the game, however, were his five walks and how uncomfortable he felt on the mound.
“He threw some great pitches in crucial situations as the game progressed,” Lee said, but overall “that’s not Joey. But it also shows you that it’s about competing, and that’s what Joey does. He believes in himself, and you’re not always going to have your best stuff. You need to compete with what you have, and that’s what the rest of our pitching staff needs to understand.”
Taking on Seattle tonight at 6 for the right to claim the best start since the program made the jump from Division II in 1995, Cal Poly was hardly satisfied with the slim victory Friday, which was made slimmer by a ninth-inning RBI single by Redhawks second baseman Nick Latta.
Despite giving up the run, Mustangs reliever Reed Reilly pitched the final three innings to pick up his third save of the season. He struck out two to up his total to 14 strikeouts in eight innings.
Senior second baseman Denver Chavez had the big swing for Cal Poly.
In the Mustangs’ only at-bat with a runner at third base, Chavez smashed a two-run double to left center with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth inning.
Chris Hoo and Peter Van Gansen scored on the play, and each batted 1 for 3, as did Chavez.
Cal Poly totaled only three hits, and Chavez’s game-winning double would not have happened if not for a fielding error by Seattle shortstop Nate Roberts on the previous play.
“Making an error in a situation like that,” Chavez said, “it’s a game-changing type of play. I knew the pressure was going to be on them. I just needed to stay dialed in, and not let the pressure get to me.”
The bottom line, Lee said, was securing the victory. As Cal Poly found out last season, any one game could be the one that keeps you out of the postseason.
So far, the Mustangs have swept San Francisco, taken a Monday game from Santa Clara and started off a three-game series on the right foot against Seattle.
“Honestly,” Chavez said, “I feel like our team’s underachieved a little bit. We’ve had three one-run ballgames, and we’re clearly the better team if you look at the other teams, but it just shows what kind of team we are. We can win close ballgames and everybody’s just sticking in there.”