With the game flying by, somebody had to do something.
Larry Lee knew it had to start with Nick Torres. At least, that’s what the Cal Poly baseball head coach told his star right fielder when the Mustangs needed to get something started.
Torres did not disappoint, coming up with a sixth-inning leadoff double that turned into the game-winning run in a 1-0 victory over visiting UC Irvine on Saturday, the fastest baseball game in Cal Poly program history.
“Before that at-bat,” Torres said, “coach Lee came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, if we’re going to win this ballgame, we’re going to need you to come up big.’ ”
Torres roped a double to left, and three batters later, Jimmy Allen did what he’s done 128 other times in his four-year tenure with the Mustangs, drove in a run — all to back the finest start of freshman pitcher Justin Calomeni’s young college career.
The No. 7 Mustangs (40-10, 15-5 Big West Conference) evened a crucial series with the No. 23 Anteaters (34-15, 15-2 Big West) in only 1 hour, 48 minutes. The “night game” was over before the sun went down, five minutes faster than the previous quickest game, a 3-0 home win over Sacramento State that finished in 1:51 in 1995 at SLO Stadium.
The previous record for the shortest game at Baggett Stadium was set earlier this season. Cal Poly beat Cal State Fullerton 1-0 in a complete-game shutout by pitcher Casey Bloomquist in 1:53.
Bloomquist takes the mound today looking to earn a series victory that could help cement an NCAA Regional in San Luis Obispo with five more games left in the regular season. Improving to 27-3 at home, the Mustangs are hoping to stay home for at least the first round of the postseason in the quest to reach their first College World Series.
Thanks to Allen, Cal Poly is still in good shape to do so.
After Torres’s double to open the sixth, designated hitter Brian Mundell moved him to third with a high fly ball to the warning track that many of the 2,742 spectators (the fifth-largest crowd in Baggett Stadium history) thought would leave the yard.
Zach Zehner hit a hard grounder snagged by Chris Rabago at shortstop, and Allen came to the plate with the Mustangs one out away from squandering their best chance to score.
Allen brought home Torres by smacking a change-up from UC Irvine starter Elliot Surrey through the left side of the infield for an RBI single.
“In that kind of position, I was just trying to have a good at-bat and not put too much pressure on myself,” Allen said. “In my career, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to have the game-winning hit, and I’ve been successful, but I’ve failed numerous times as well.”
It’s hard to remember a time when Allen wasn’t playing for Cal Poly. He’s started 173 straight games, the seventh-longest streak in the nation.
During that time, Allen has passed Ozzie Smith for the Mustangs’ all-time record for at-bats. He now has 785, and Allen’s 54 doubles are also an all-time program record.
With 240 career hits, he needs just three to tie John Macalutas for the lead, and Allen’s 129 career RBI rank eighth.
“He’s just steady and is able to separate at-bats, separate pitches,” Lee said, “and he’s become a much more patient hitter this year. It’s just made him more selective and his approach is better.”
Calomeni picked the perfect time for the performance of his life.
He allowed just two hits and no walks and struck out six in six innings. It was about double what Lee expected after the freshman had thrown the worst pregame bullpen session of the season.
Calomeni had such little control over his changeup in the pregame, the pitch was taken off the table, and Lee was hoping he would last at least three or maybe four innings.
Throwing 74 fastballs and just one slider, Calomeni attacked the plate and showed a poise that’s grown stronger over the course of the season.
“His confidence is really increased as he’s gotten more experience,” Allen said. “As a freshman, you come in with nerves. You don’t want to mess up and let people down, but as he’s had more starts, he’s gotten more and more confident. He’s got electric stuff.”
He’d previously had one six-inning scoreless start and another that lasted five. Each of those games came on Tuesdays against Santa Clara, not against the Big West front-runner with postseason implications weighing heavy.
Surrey gave up eight hits and a walk while striking out one in the complete game for UC Irvine. Cal Poly’s Taylor Chris pitched a perfect seventh, and closer Reed Reilly was perfect in the eighth and ninth to earn his ninth save of the year. The duo has been the main reason the Mustangs are 35-0 when leading after six innings, and both are fresh enough to pitch today if needed.
It was the 10th shutout by Mustangs this season, which ranks in the top 10 nationally. Coupled with Cal Poly ace Matt Imhof’s gem in a losing effort Friday, UC Irvine has totaled only five hits in the series. The Anteaters were retired in order seven times Saturday, and Cal Poly pitching retired the final 13 hitters in a row.
At the plate, Allen was 2 for 3, Mundell was 2 for 4, and Mark Mathias was 1 for 4 with a single to extend a six-game hitting streak. Mathias has hit safely in 37 of 39 games this season.
Torres’ lone hit, also the only extra-base hit of the game, helped change the complexion of the series where any one play can make the difference.
“It just heightens everything,” Torres said. “The emotions you would have in a big game, they just become more and more intense. I crossed home plate and just remember screaming and yelling and getting really fired up. With a big game like this, the momentum can change very fast.”