Cal Poly baseball exceeds expectations on opening weekend
February 17, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The Cal Poly baseball team begins the 2014 season on the cusp, college baseball experts say.
“They may be good enough to take that next step and win a regional,” Baseball America writer Aaron Fitt said on a season preview podcast. Fitt, named Cal Poly as a sleeper team capable of possibly making a run to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Mustangs began the season with a weekend series against a team, Kansas State, that did win a regional last year and came within one game of making it to Omaha. Like Cal Poly, 22nd ranked Kansas State returned much of its 2013 squad to the field over the weekend.
But, Cal Poly overwhelmed the Wildcats, sweeping the series with dominant pitching and an offensive explosion on Sunday.
Cal Poly’s junior ace, lefty Matt Imhof, kicked off the season Friday by striking out 14 Wildcats over seven innings of shutout work. The Mustangs won the Valentine’s Day season opener 3-0.
On Saturday, Cal Poly freshman Slater Lee made his first career start, displaying strong command over six and a third innings. Lee allowed just one run, which came on an infield single, and cruised to a 5-2 victory.
Cal Poly sophomore Casey Bloomquist pitched five scoreless innings on Sunday, then left the game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth. Freshman reliever Nick Zuniga entered the game for his first career appearance and recorded two strikeouts and a groundout to erase the bases loaded, no out jam with just one run crossing the plate.
The Cal Poly hitters then delivered six runs over the next two innings, capped by a three-run homerun by right fielder Nick Torres. The Mustangs won the series finale 10-1.
Torres had six hits in the series, as did center fielder Jordan Ellis. Third baseman Jimmy Allen and designated hitter Brian Mundell had five hits a piece, and Allen drove in six runs.
Ellis, Torres, Mundell and Allen are the returning two, three, four and five hitters in a Cal Poly lineup that figures to provide some sock in 2014.
“They seem more physical consistently than most West Coast teams,” said Fitt’s cohort John Manuel on the season preview podcast. “That’s a characteristic that Coach [Larry] Lee recruits.”
Pitching is the major question for the 2014 Cal Poly squad, experts say. Imhof is an established starter, who is listed high on award watch lists and Major League Baseball Draft projections. Cal Poly closer Reed Reilly, who earned saves on Friday and Saturday, also has garnered national praise.
But, Cal Poly pitching depth has troubled the team in the recent past, and Lee is relying on freshmen starters to pitch on Saturdays and Tuesday.
Nonetheless, the pitching staff excelled in the first weekend of play, allowing a total of three runs to a Kansas State offense that is potent, according to the Wildcats radio announcer.
After a Tuesday game at Santa Clara, Cal Poly returns to Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, where its season ended last June. The Mustangs will play a weekend series against injury-riddled, yet defending national champion UCLA.
The Bruins won the 2013 College World Series, never losing a game along the way, despite trailing Cal Poly 4-0 after five innings of a Los Angeles regional game. UCLA had not even notched a hit until the sixth inning when Imhof lost his command and a fly ball lost in the lights scored three to tie the game.
Cal Poly lost the game and lost again the next day to bring their 40-win season to an end.
Following the sweep of Kansas State, the Mustangs will assuredly enter the week in top 25 of various national polls.
UCLA open the season ranked in the top 10 of some polls, but lost its opener 1-0 to Portland. The Bruins bounced back with victories on Saturday and Sunday.
Friday’s series opener is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Stadium.