Steven Fischback’s season has been a constant battle to return to his old form after missing two years following a labrum injury.
Friday night against Cal State Fullerton, Fischback might just have brought his comeback full-circle.
“It was a special moment facing a ranked team and getting the chance (to pitch the ninth inning) with the coaches behind me, putting me back out there,” Fischback said. “I actually felt a little rejuvenated with the fans standing, cheering, knowing you only have three more outs.”
With the help of Fischback, who went all nine innings and gave up one earned run, the Mustangs won their second consecutive game over the Titans, third straight over ranked opponents and seventh straight overall in a 4-2 victory Friday night to move into a tie for first place in the Big West.
“We’re playing our best baseball at this time of the year,” head coach Larry Lee said. “We struggled early on, but since conference has started we started playing a lot better. The last couple weeks we just have a confidence about ourselves.”
The Titans jumped on the board first to start the sixth as Anthony Trajano singled to left field on a two out, two strike pitch — scoring Nick Ramirez from second base. Fischback was called for his first balk of the season during the next at-bat, but a grounder to first got him out of the inning without further damage.
The Mustangs were able to counter in the bottom half of the inning using a DJ Gentile sacrifice fly to center that scored right fielder Mitch Haniger. Gentile, the Mustangs designated hitter, is batting .273 on the season with 23 RBIs after two batted in on Friday.
Cal Poly was able to break the game open in the following inning by pushing third baseman Evan Busby across the plate using a sacrifice fly, then loading the bases off walks to Denver Chavez and Haniger. Eight consecutive balls thrown by the Titans forced home two more runs for Cal Poly and put them ahead for good.
Shortstop J.J. Thompson was one of the beneficiaries of those RBI walks, although he went 0-for-3 on the night snapping his 11-game hitting streak. Thompson said he was sad to see the streak go but winning and building team confidence was far more important, especially during a key stretch of the season.
“We have a lot of confidence right now,” Thompson said. “I don’t think whether we win or lose tomorrow is gonna change the kind of confidence we have now.”
Thompson also said he could not pinpoint the exact moment the Mustangs turned everything around, but the ability for Cal Poly’s hitters and pitchers to get hot at the same time has placed the team in a position to win the conference.
“It feels like the first part of the season never happened,” Thompson said. “We’re the best team I’ve ever seen.”
After tonight’s win, Fischback and Thursday’s starter Mason Radeke combined for two complete-game wins against the defending Big West champions. It’s the first time since May 2005 that the Mustangs pitched back-to-back complete games. Garrett Olson and Jimmy Shull were the last Cal Poly starters to accomplish the feat.
Fischback also threw seven strikeouts, including two in the first inning using what Lee says is his best pitch, the change-up.
Going into the series finale the Mustangs do not sound like they are content with taking just two of three.
“We want to sweep them,” Fischback said.
Freshman Chase Johnson (1-2, 3.23 ERA) will take the mound on Sunday looking for the Mustangs’ first sweep in program history against the Titans.