Cal Poly claims conference championship
May 18, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Cal Poly won its first Big West Conference championship Sunday with a 3-2 victory over Cal State Northridge.
The Mustangs led 3-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the bases empty, but Cal Poly closer Reed Reilly let four Matadors reach base, one of whom scored. Northridge loaded the bases, placing the tying run at third and the winning run at second, but Reilly finally induced a groundout to first, and the Mustangs dog-piled on the infield grass.
Cal Poly Head Coach Larry Lee said after the game that he never had any doubt about sticking with Reilly during the ninth inning.
“It was Reed’s game to win or lose,” Lee said. “He’s meant more to this program over the last three years than anybody, and he deserves to be out there.”
Lefty reliever Taylor Chris did warm up as Reilly struggled to record the final out, but never entered the game.
Entering its final game of the regular season, Cal Poly needed just to beat Northridge Sunday in order to secure a share of the conference title and to earn the Big West’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. But, minutes after Cal Poly eked out the victory, Cal State Fullerton completed its second consecutive comeback victory over UC Irvine, giving the Mustangs the outright Big West crown.
Cal Poly finished the regular season winning six in a row and nine of its last 10. The Mustangs are 45-10 overall and 19-5 in the conference.
It took Cal Poly 18 years in the Big West for the Mustangs to win the conference championship.
By most indications, Cal Poly has also sealed its bid to host the school’s first NCAA regional. The top 16-seeded teams in the 64-team NCAA Tournament will host four-team, double elimination regionals to begin postseason play.
Cal Poly is ranked in the top 10 of most national polls and boasts the third best record in the country. The Mustangs are 17th in the computer generated Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), but the selection committee does not heavily weigh RPI when selecting host sites.
“We will host,” Lee said.
The NCAA will announce the 16 regional host sites on the evening of May 25. The selection committee will unveil the entire field of 64 on May 26, and regional play will begin on May 30.
A San Luis Obispo regional would likely draw quality West Coast teams, possibly including both Oregon (40-16) and Pepperdine (36-16). Cal Poly has split two Tuesday games with Pepperdine and has not played Oregon.
The tournament selection committee likewise awards national seeds to the top eight teams in the field of 64, meaning those teams are also assured to host the next round of play if they win their regionals.
Lee said his team deserves a national seed, but will not receive one.
The selection committee is generally more lenient in awarding regionals and national seeds to schools with track records of hosting tournament games.
Cal Poly will take three days off and then return to practice as most teams wrap up their seasons this week.
The Mustangs have tinkered with their lineup frequently over the second half of the season, but seem to have found a consistent starting nine as they enter tournament play. It remains unclear, though, who will slot as Cal Poly’s third starting pitcher behind Matt Imhof (9-4, 2.55) and Casey Bloomquist (12-1, 1.60).
Each of the two candidates for the third starter role pitched in Sunday’s game. Freshman Justin Calomeni (8-2, 3.50) who has pitched in the weekend rotation for much of the year, started Sunday and gave up three hits and a run over three and two thirds innings.
Junior Danny Zandona, (4-0, 2.66) relieved Calomeni in the fourth inning and retired the first seven batters he faced. Zandona pitched three and one third innings Sunday, allowing no runs and just one hit. He recorded 10 outs while facing just 10 batters.
Lee said he may not decide on his third postseason starter until regional play is already underway. Zandona, who has spent most of the season as a reliever, could pitch out of the bullpen in either of the first two games of the regional, Lee said. That scenario would likely prompt Calomeni to start.
Cal Poly must win at least one of its first two postseason games in order to play a third. The Mustangs have only one tournament win in two regional appearances.
After beating San Diego in the first game of the 2013 Los Angeles Regional, Cal Poly nearly upended UCLA, the eventual national champion. But, the Mustangs blew a 4-0 lead and lost again the next day, eliminating them from the tournament.
Tickets for the pending 2014 San Luis Obispo regional are expected to sell out quickly. Cal Poly has expanded the capacity of Baggett Stadium to around 3,000 seats, but even regular season crowds have packed the park.