(Photos by Ian Billings)
Just when the baseball team needed it most, true freshman Brian Mundell came through again on Sunday afternoon.
The designated hitter hit his second walk-off hit of the season and led Cal Poly to 4-3 win over visiting UC Riverside (18-25, 7-11 Big West) for the series sweep.
“It was a slider, or a slurve, or whatever he has, some type of spinning pitch,” Mundell said. “I recognized it early, and I was able to adjust my swing enough to put it through the infield.”
The weekend victories ended a 2-5 skid that saw the Mustangs drop series to conference foes Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State.
The No. 24 Mustangs (31-14, 11-7) trailed by one run with two outs in the ninth when second baseman Denver Chavez drew a 3-2 walk.
Mundell tipped the next batter, center fielder Jordan Ellis, that he would get a first-pitch fastball. Ellis blasted the heater deep to center, where it got caught in the billowing wind and fell in front of a lunging outfielder.
“With this wind out here today, everything’s dying,” Ellis said. “The wind plays a huge factor. You’d be surprised at how much it really affects the ball. Everything is just hitting a wall in the sky and just drops.”
Ellis’ hit, a triple, tied the game, and Mundell followed with a chopper to the left of the shortstop. He beat the throw for an infield single, and the rest of the players poured out of the dugout to celebrate.
“The most important thing for me is that we won the game, and that we were able to come back and put a W in the win column,” Mundell said. “It just shows the heart and courage that our team has.”
First baseman Tommy Pluschkell knocked in both of the Mustangs’ first two runs despite going hitless in three plate appearances.
Pluschkell grounded into a fielder’s choice to score David Armendariz in the second. After consecutive UC Riverside errors in the fourth, Pluschkell moved a run home on a sacrifice bunt.
“It wasn’t a squeeze bunt, it was a safety push bunt, with the runner on third not going unless it’s down and away from the pitcher,” Lee said. “It’s just part of our game, and it keeps you from hitting into an inning-ending double play.”
Starting pitcher Bryan Granger was pulled after beginning the fifth inning with back-to-back doubles. This season, Granger has seen quality starts turn into nightmares, and Lee was quick with the hook.
“When you get this far in the season, there’s a history,” Lee said. “You watch how your pitchers are at a certain pitch count or in certain situations, and you make your decisions and determine on that.”
Reliever Michael Dingilian let one of Granger’s base runners score, and UC Riverside tacked on another run.
Michael Holback kept Cal Poly in the game with four shutout innings, yielding three hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
“Pitching is the biggest percentage, by far, of baseball,” Lee said. “When you pitch, you can be in every ball game, and then you find ways — like today — to win.”
Mundell and Ellis provided offensive support throughout the game, combining for five hits. Ellis and David Armenderiz both extended hitting streaks in their first at bats, to 13 and 10 games, respectively.
Despite the early offense, the Mustangs stranded men in key situations. The team left four runners on base in the first two innings, including three in scoring position.
In the third inning, shortstop Peter Van Gansen made a sliding backhanded stop, popped up and fired across his body in time to nail the runner.
Van Gansen’s gem was much needed, as the Highlanders loaded the bases against Granger but were unable to push a run across.
Catcher Elliot Stewart had a highlight reel play as well, gunning a throw down to second in time to nab a potential base stealer in the eighth.
Every game remaining is a must-win, Ellis said. The Mustangs want to leave no doubt that they are worthy of the postseason this year.
“Last year, we thought we had a good shot at making regionals. We were 36-20, good record, but they didn’t select us,” Ellis said. “Hopefully we can hit that 40 (win) mark, and then I don’t see how they couldn’t select us.”
View a full photo set from Sunday’s game on our Facebook page.