If there ever was a “trap” series for Cal Poly, this weekend would be it.
Rolling off the euphoria of taking two games from conference-leading Cal State Fullerton last weekend — and their second win of the season against No. 13 Fresno State just days before that — it appears the Mustangs are hitting their peak at the right time.
But if the Mustangs aren’t careful against Long Beach State, all that momentum may go down the drain.
In what could be their shot at the national spotlight, the Mustangs (18-17, 8-4 Big West) travel to Long Beach State this weekend to keep their winning ways going and keep pace with Cal State Fullerton.
It’s been an up and down season for the Mustangs, after it seemed like they would roll into this season with full steam. They finished last year hot, winning 13 of 18 games down the stretch.
But that momentum didn’t carry over to this year. They dropped all three games in their season opening tournament and then lost 12 of 20 nonconference games.
In small flashes, the Mustangs showed they could contend with big-time programs. They beat UCLA, a team which lost to South Carolina in the College World Series Championship last year, 2-1 on March 21 and beat Fresno State, then ranked No. 21, 11-4, for their first win of the season.
Once conference play started, the Mustangs found their stride. They took two games from UC Riverside in their conference-opening series, but then fell twice to UC Santa Barbara. Cal Poly answered with a sweep of Cal State Northridge the following weekend.
And last weekend, it seems like all the pieces fell into place, when Cal Poly took two of three from No. 5 Cal State Fullerton.
But then injuries caught up with Mustangs.
Shortstop Mike Miller, who boasts a Big West-leading .374 batting average, is sidelined due to mononucleosis (mono). Center fielder Bobby Crocker, who is hitting .331 this season with 15 RBIs, pulled a hamstring last weekend against the Titans. Also, Denver Chavez, who filled a huge hole after second baseman Matt Jensen left because he reinjured his wrist, tweaked his hamstring last weekend.
So, the Mustangs may head into this weekend’s series against the Dirtbags undermanned, to say the least.
Long Beach State, itself, is no pushover. The Dirtbags (20-18, 6-6 Big West) rank fourth in the Big West and boast two batters who are hitting over .300 — with one pitcher who has an ERA under 2.00. Freshman Ino Patron leads the team with a .336 average, to go with his 19 RBIs and seven doubles. Behind him, senior Matt Hibbert is hitting .324 with five doubles.
On the mound, junior Andrew Gagnon leads the team with a 1.93 ERA. Gagnon (4-5) also has 63 strikeouts, while holding batters to a .183 average.
Long Beach State has, however, fallen in three of its last five games. The Dirtbags lost the final game of their three-games series to UC Riverside, 14-2, and then lost their first two games against UC Santa Barbara the next weekend by a combined score of 12-5.
The Mustangs are streaking in other ways, and a series win over Long Beach State, could possibly propel them into the national spotlight.
It’s already somewhat started. Collegebaseballinsider.com named Cal Poly national team of the week and pitcher Steven Fischback was named Big West pitcher of the week, after throwing all nine innings in the Mustangs’ 4-2 win over Cal State Fullerton last Friday.
It’s the kind of start he has been waiting for all season. After Fischback tore his labrum his sophomore year, he’s been forced to watch the Mustangs compete on the sidelines — until this year. Now, Fishback’s making the most of his final season. He lowered his ERA to 3.60 after his last start, and upped his record to 4-2.
But when it comes to pitching, Friday starter Mason Radeke is giving the Mustangs success on the mound it hasn’t had in years. Radeke leads the team with a 2.42 ERA and is 6-1 this season. His only loss came at the hands of Oklahoma State, where he gave up seven earned runs in an 8-2 defeat. Radeke also leads the Big West in strikeouts (75), with Cal State Fullerton’s Tyler Pill coming in tied for second with 71.
And this weekend, that is what it might come down to — the Mustangs’ success on the mound. With Radeke and Fischback both pitching complete games, fatigue may be a factor. The Mustangs’ first game is set for Friday at 6:30 p.m.