The Cal Poly baseball team took a lead in the Big West conference midway through the season and had high hopes for a return to the NCAA regionals for the first time since 2009. They had just defeated perennial conference champion Cal State Fullerton in two out of three games, taking a series away from the Titans for the second time in more than 35 years.
Then injuries caught up to the Mustangs, who ended the season with a 27-26 record and nabbed third place in the conference behind Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine. Bobby Crocker, the main power source in the lineup, Denver Chavez, the speedy second baseman and Mike Miller were all dealt midseason injuries that dampened the Mustangs at the plate through a crucial stretch.
The Mustangs also lost Jeff Johnson during the same stretch. The Mustang closer was a steady bookend to Cal Poly’s rotation, appearing in 18 games, saving five, while earning a 1.63 ERA, giving up just five runs in the process.
They dropped two games against Long Beach State then two more against UC Irvine, effectively dealing the Mustangs a fatal blow before the team regained its momentum, culminating in a 21-0 drubbing of Pacific in their final conference matchup of the season.
The season was marked by a one-two punch of starting pitching from Mason Radeke and Steven Fischback. Both ended the 2010 season from the dugout while battling injuries, but the Friday/Saturday duo combined for a 15-5 record with three complete games between them.
Fischback returned to the mound after a nearly three-year absence due to a torn right labrum and still managed to baffle batters at the plate, this time with a change-up that buckled knees. He earned his first victory on March 6, giving up four hits and one run over six innings against Valparaiso. Fischback went on to strikeout out more than 70 batters in 2011.
Radeke earned the Friday night starter role with a perfectionist approach, trying to strikeout every batter who came to the plate. He ended up sending 95 batters back to the dugout empty handed in 99 1/3 innings.
The highlight of the season was a three-game series against the Titans, when the Mustangs won two out of three games behind the pitching of Radeke and Fischback. The Mustangs were able to push across 11 runs while giving up only four in their two wins. The offensive attack was generated through timely hitting across the lineup. Seven players had RBIs in the wins, including two each from Jimmy Allen, Crocker, DJ Gentile and J.J. Thompson.
The team will return next year looking to fill gaps vacated by designated hitter Gentile, infielder Thompson and Fischback.
Freshman right-hander Chase Johnson had opportunities to start the Sunday game and he posted a 3.67 ERA including two wins in 17 appearances. Look for him to move up in the rotation as the Mustangs take the field in pursuit of the 2012 postseason.