Ian Billings/Staff Photographer

The Mustangs used that loss and their premature postseason exit as fuel for the 2014 season.

Stephan Teodosescu

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Cal Poly baseball had a banner year last season. The Mustangs finished second in the Big West Conference, set a school Division I record by winning 40 games and reached the regional round of the postseason for just the second time in program history.

But none of that mattered considering the way 2013 ended.

Cal Poly was ousted from the NCAA Los Angeles Regional after an elimination-game loss to the University of San Diego and a dropped a heartbreaker to eventual national champion UCLA.

Against the Bruins, then-sophomore outfielder Nick Torres misplayed a fly ball to right field that, if caught, would have ended the inning and sent the Mustangs to the plate with a 4-0 lead headed to the seventh.

Instead, the ball dropped behind Torres to clear the bases and jumpstart UCLA’s four-run rally in the inning, which eventually ended in a 6-4 defeat for Cal Poly. The Bruins would go on to win the remainder of their games and earn their first College World Series title.

The Mustangs used that loss and their premature postseason exit as fuel for the 2014 season.

“Expectations here a lot higher,” Torres said. “Last year we knew we were good, we knew we had the talent and we obviously showed that by making regionals … After last year and proving ourselves a bit and really emerging on the map, I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position to make another run for the postseason this year.”

Torres, who hit .333 with seven home runs and 49 RBI, will be back for his junior season.

Joining Torres for his junior campaign will be left-handed pitcher Matt Imhof. After a successful stint as a reliever with USA baseball this past summer, Imhof returns as the Friday night ace. He compiled a 7-3 record with a 2.74 ERA last season as the Saturday night starter.

“We should be much better offensively, we should be better defensively, should have a strong bullpen and obviously be strong at the No. 1 spot in the rotation with Imhof,” head coach Larry Lee said.

Despite being drafted by Major League Baseball teams this past June, senior third baseman Jimmy Allen and junior reliever Reed Reilly also headline the returning players for the Mustangs.

Freshman hurler Slater Lee will handle the Saturday pitching duties, while fellow freshman Justin Calomeni will throw on Tuesdays. Lee went 11-2 with a 1.34 ERA as a senior at Carlsbad High School, and Calomeni finished his final season at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose with an 8-1 record and a 1.07 ERA.

Lee said his team’s success will hinge on how those young arms fare in the early part of a tough non-conference schedule.

“Both are capable of being successful, but we just need to speed up the developmental process,” Lee said. “We’re asking them, as freshmen, not to act like freshmen.”

The Mustangs were selected to finish second in a loaded Big West Conference in the preseason coaches poll released last week. Cal State Fullerton, ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Baseball Top 25 Coaches Poll, was picked to win the conference.

Cal Poly opens its 2014 campaign at home in Baggett Stadium with a three-game series against NCAA Super Regional team Kansas State. The 2013 Big 12 champs were picked to finish first in their conference for the first time in school history.

Cal Poly took two of three games against the Wildcats in Manhattan, Kan. in 2013 when then-freshman designated hitter Brian Mundell announced his arrival on the scene with two home runs and four RBIs in the opening contest of that series. Mundell went on to hit a program freshman record 11 dingers in 2013.

He’s coming off Tommy John surgery in the offseason, but is slated to start at DH and bat in the No. 4 spot in the lineup for the Mustangs on opening day.

Senior outfielder Tim Wise, junior outfielder Jordan Ellis, Torres and Allen will occupy the other spots in the top half of the lineup.

“It’s a mature lineup; we’re very physical in our lineup,” Lee said. “Last year, we were very much an underachieving offense. We didn’t produce very well. That wasn’t one of the main reasons why we won so many games last year.”

First pitch at Baggett Stadium is set for 6 p.m. in the Friday and Saturday games, while a 1 p.m. start is slated for the Sunday game.

Jacob Lauing contributed to this article.

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