Cal Poly ekes out series victory over Santa Barbara
April 6, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Cal Poly baseball is known nationally as a program that is very offensive. On Sunday, the team demonstrated that it could win a big game while relying on pitching.
After Mustang hurlers surrendered 26 hits and 15 runs to UC Santa Barbara over Friday and Saturday nights, sophomore sinkerballer Casey Bloomquist and lefty reliever Taylor Chris combined to shut out the Gauchos in a 1-0, series-clinching win Sunday.
Bloomquist threw seven and two thirds scoreless innings, striking out 10 and walking nobody. He allowed five hits
Chris relieved Bloomquist with two outs in the eighth inning and Gaucho slugger Tyler Kuresa up with a runner on first base. The junior lefty induced a flyout to left and then pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn a save.
More than halfway into the season, both Bloomquist and Chris are sporting dazzling ERAs. Bloomquist, who is now 7-0, has a 1.25 ERA, and Chris, who now has four saves, has a 1.32 ERA.
The lone Cal Poly run came in the bottom of the fourth when senior third baseman Jimmy Allen hit a two-out triple down the right field line, which scored designated hitter Brian Mundell from first. Mundell chopped an infield single, his second of the series, to reach base ahead of Allen.
Cal Poly Head Coach Larry Lee said the victory felt good because it came against Santa Barbara.
“They’re good,” Lee said. “They’re the best team that we’ve faced.”
Santa Barbara hitters knocked out both Mustang ace Matt Imhof and struggling freshman Justin Calomeni after three and a third innings in the first two games of the series. UCSB won 8-6 Friday, and Cal Poly responded with an 8-7 win Saturday, capped by a walk-off single by senior catcher Chris Hoo.
Sunday’s series clinching win will likely keep Cal Poly ranked in the top-5 of some national polls. The Mustangs entered the weekend ranked 5th nationally by Baseball America, while Santa Barbara checked in at 17th.
The victory improved Cal Poly’s overall record to 26-5 and its Big West Conference record to 5-1. Santa Barbara dropped to 20-7 overall and 2-4 in the conference.
Despite Cal Poly’s early and mid-season success, the team is rarely getting quality outings from its Saturday starters.
Lee said after the game that freshman righties Slater Lee and Justin Calomeni will swap pitching duties this week. Calomeni (5-1, 4.05) will start on Tuesday, and Slater Lee (2-1, 6.06) will pitch on Saturday. Lee and Calomeni switched roles once before and are now reverting back to their initial slots in the rotation.
On Tuesday, Slater Lee pitched well against Cal State Bakersfield, delivering his first quality start since he shut out defending national champion UCLA in the second week of the season.
Still, Larry Lee is acknowledging that his freshmen are struggling in their Saturday starts.
“We have our troubles on Saturdays,” Lee said. “We have to give in to the hitters too often because lack of secondary pitches.”
To date, starters Imhof and Bloomquist and relievers Chris and Reed Reilly have provided enough quality innings to overcome a lack of pitching depth. When all else has failed, Cal Poly’s potent offense has carried the team to wins.
The Mustangs now sit in a position in which, barring a letdown week against lesser opponents, they will enter their annual series with Cal State Fullerton in the unfamiliar role of the favorite. Fullerton (16-11, 2-1) has uncharacteristically struggled defensively in 2014 and has often lacked offensive production.
Still, the Titans boast arguably the nation’s best pitching staff, and Lee is wary of their potential.
“All baseball teams go through a lull,” Lee said. “They’re loaded. They’re as good as anybody.”
Cal Poly hosts Saint Mary’s on Tuesday and then boards a plane to Honolulu for a weekend series against Hawaii. The Mustangs then play a Tuesday game at Bakersfield before the Titans come to San Luis Obispo for a Thursday through Saturday series on April 17-19.
Fullerton has won the Big West each of the last four years and boasts a 63-35 all-time record against Cal Poly.