Weather readings had temperatures dipping into the 40s, but with a record start by the Cal Poly baseball team, some Mustangs fans are already thinking ahead to warmer days.
Being serenaded by chants of “O-ma-ha, O-ma-ha,” Cal Poly players could do little but smile after a 6-1 victory over Holy Cross on Tuesday at Baggett Stadium, knowing the site of the College World Series is a very long way away.
The Mustangs (10-1) made their debut in two national polls this week, coming in at No. 25 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, and their 10-1 start is the best since 1997 — encouraging signs for a program looking to make its second trip to a Division I NCAA regional.
“It’s cool,” junior outfielder David Armendariz said. “People tell us around campus congratulations this and that, and we appreciate it a lot, but we’re just trying to take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time, and that keeps us level-headed. We don’t want to get too high or low in the season.”
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With separate RBI doubles against the Crusaders (1-7), Armendariz helped prevent settling into a low. After batting 7 for 18 in the first four games of the season, he was just 1 for 17 since.
On Tuesday, Armendariz was 2 for 4 with a run and two RBI to raise his batting average to .256. His first double scored Alex Michaels and gave Cal Poly a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning, and his second was part of a three-run rally that effectively ended any drama in the bottom of the sixth.
Ending the game with a lunging catch ranging back in center, Armendariz has tried to use his defense to help keep him focused.
“When you’re struggling at the plate like he was for a couple games,” sophomore outfielder Nick Torres said, “using the defensive side of things takes your mind off hitting, and so I think that’s been big for him. The fact that you can have a bad at-bat, go out and make a big play, and it kind of keeps your spirits up a little bit.”
Though Cal Poly has lost only once, nearly half of the Mustangs’ games have been decided by one run, and before a two-run rally in the first against Holy Cross, they’d scored just three runs total in the first three innings all season.
That, Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said, was because of an offense that has yet to hit its stride.
Should Armendariz build off Tuesday’s game, it could go a long way in helping the Mustangs become more consistent scoring runs. He’s worked on his mechanics during his slump, and it seems to have paid off.
“Once you get comfortable, it’s about doing what you’ve done your whole life,” Armendariz said, “and I feel like I was really comfortable tonight.”
Holy Cross (1-7) scored its run in the top of the fifth and was threatening with runners at the corners in the sixth, but reliever Taylor Chris came in for starter Kyle Brueggemann and got out of the inning unscathed.
Brueggemann got his first victory of the season, allowing five hits and a run through 51⁄3 innings while walking two and striking out four. Chris allowed one hit and struck out two before Chase Johnson pitched a perfect ninth to end the game.
Torres, fresh off his honor as Big West Player of the Week, was also 2 for 4 and had an RBI double in the first to score Elliot Stewart, who had just doubled in Denver Chavez.
Chavez, who raised his team-high batting average to .425, was 1 for 2 with a walk and an RBI double of his own.
Though they finished with eight hits, Cal Poly had only three through the first five innings, two fewer than Holy Cross to that point. In the end, the Mustangs only outhit the Crusaders 8-6.
“We’ve been lucky to pitch extremely well, not give up a lot of runs and win a lot of close ballgames,” Lee said. “This is the second time we’ve won by five runs, so that’s a big win for us. But you see how fragile baseball is.
“We’re lucky to get those key hits from Torres, Armendariz and Chavez. So, we’ll take it. There’s big concern though.”