Cal Poly

Mustangs turn focus to Sacramento State in home NCAA baseball regional

Cal Poly baseball players celebrate seeing the Mustangs appear during the NCAA selection show on ESPNU on Monday morning at Charlie's Place in San Luis Obispo.
Cal Poly baseball players celebrate seeing the Mustangs appear during the NCAA selection show on ESPNU on Monday morning at Charlie's Place in San Luis Obispo.

Mark Mathias has heard his name mispronounced plenty of times — but never on the ESPN family of networks.

The Cal Poly sophomore second baseman was getting a little antsy over his French toast and a rare cup of coffee Monday morning at Charlie’s Place. It took until the middle of the third segment of the NCAA baseball selection show before the Mustangs found out who will join them in the San Luis Obispo Regional this weekend.

Seeing how the selection committee decided against pairing Cal Poly and top overall seed Oregon State in a potential Super Regional matchup and didn’t bring Pac-12 Conference runner-up Washington to town, it was worth the wait.

Mathis. Mathias. Whatever.

“I get a lot of mispronunciations on my name,” said Mathias, who hit a team-leading .378 in a breakout regular season, “but it’s alright. I’m not really a guy that wants the spotlight on my name.

“I’ve never had my name on ESPNU. So, I’m pretty excited and proud of myself.”

Along with assistant coaches, administrators and well-wishers, Cal Poly players gathered at the near-campus restaurant to celebrate their selection together.

The team learned Sunday it would be hosting one of 16 four-team regionals that comprise the field of 64. The NCAA filled in the other three teams Monday.

West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champion Pepperdine (39-16) and Arizona State (33-22), the third-place winner from the Pac-12, will open the regional Friday at 1. Then the Mustangs (45-10) will play Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion Sacramento State (39-22) at 6.

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Ranked in the top five by all major human polls entering the week, Cal Poly was not awarded a top-eight national seed, which would have given the Mustangs priority to host a Super Regional should they advance.

There was little disappointment in being matched up with the winner of the Fort Worth Regional for a potential best-of-three Super Regional. With host TCU being a No. 7 national seed, Cal Poly is essentially being treated as the No. 10 overall seed in the tournament.

There was little disappointment in that.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” sophomore pitcher Casey Bloomquist said. “We’ve wanted to host regionals for a really long time now. To see it come through, it’s a reward for all our hard work.

“We’re looking forward to sleeping in our own beds.”

It wasn’t long before the celebration was cut short, however, and the focus returned at the business at hand. After the selection show, which started at 9 a.m., players were back at Baggett Stadium for practice at 10:30.

The Hornets enter having won seven of their past eight games and are a team that Cal Poly knows little about.

The Mustangs have not played Sacramento State since 2009, and even though projections have been pairing the Hornets with the San Luis Obispo Regional, it only made sense to Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee to begin preparing for an opponent once it was official.

The Mustangs hold a 43-15 all-time series edge on Sacramento State. Even so, Lee held great respect for the Hornets when speaking to reporters.

“You would be very disrespectful if you didn’t think Sac State could win a regional,” Lee said. “You don’t know what their starting pitching is all about. You can win a regional in three games, and if they have three legit arms, then anything can happen.”

The Hornets may be the bottom team in the regional, but Fresno State became the first No. 4 team from a regional to win the College World Series in 2008, and like Sacramento State, the Bulldogs needed to win the WAC Tournament to get into a regional, too.

The Sun Devils are the No. 2 team in the regional, and like the Hornets, Cal Poly has not played them in a while. Arizona State took a single game from the Mustangs, beating them 12-9 in 2010.

In 2009, the Mustangs advanced to a regional for the first time in Division I program history. Playing in Tempe, Ariz., the Mustangs went 0-2 and never got to face host Arizona State.

Cal Poly and Pepperdine split a pair of midweek games, with the Waves taking an 11-4 win April 29 and the Mustangs getting revenge 5-1 on May 6.

Neither, however, has seen the other team’s best pitching, and Cal Poly is sticking to the names in its weekend rotation, though there will be some shuffling.

Lee said ace Matt Imhof (9-4, 2.55 ERA) will start Friday against Sacramento State. Though he started only Sundays this season, Bloomquist (12-1, 1.60 ERA) will get the Saturday assignment against either Arizona State or Pepperdine. Freshman Justin Calomeni (8-2, 3.50 ERA) will get the third start.

Cal Poly could need to play either three or five games to win the regional. That could give junior Danny Zandona (4-0, 2.66 ERA), who bloomed as the midweek starter toward the end of the season, an important role.

Whether Zandona starts or comes out of the bullpen, Lee did say long-term planning is out of the question until games start being played.

“We have to take care of what’s in front of us,” Lee said. “We have an opportunity to play at home. We have an opportunity to play in a regional. Any of the four teams in our regional have the opportunity of advancing, and you have to play your best ball.”