Visibly flustered sophomore pitcher Matt Imhof reluctantly handed head coach Larry Lee the ball for a pitching change in the eighth inning. After throwing seven 7 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, Imhof found himself in some trouble with runners on and only one out, forcing Lee to give his sophomore closer Reed Reilly a chance to shut the door on visiting Hawaii.
Picking up where Imhof left off prior to his jam in the eighth, Reilly did just that, striking out two of the final three batters that he faced to help the Cal Poly baseball team defeat the Rainbows 3-2 at Baggett Stadium on Saturday night.
“My mindset was that I’m gonna finish this game and I’m gonna get the shutout,” Imhof said. “It was just a little disappointing to get taken out. I understand (the coach’s decision) to have Reed (Reilly) coming in. But being the competitor that I am, I wanted to finish that game.”
Imhof or Reilly in the end? Either way for the Mustangs (24-8, 6-2 Big West), it felt like a win-win situation.
“Imhof is looking like a veteran out there, especially after the adversity he faced (in a loss to UC Santa Barbara) last week,” Reilly said of his starter. “He really showed a lot tonight, going eight innings and keeping them off balanced.”
It’s proven to be a theme this season. No matter who has toed the rubber for Cal Poly, the opposing team has had a difficult time putting runs on the board against them, not to mention difficulties of avoiding the strikeout.
Imhof was the latest starter to give the team in the opposite dugout fits at the plate, striking out a career high tying 11 batters against the Rainbows (7-24, 2-6) on Saturday. The only other time he has fanned that many in a single game was March 15 against a then-No. 17 Notre Dame squad.
As a team, the Mustangs rank No. 6 in the country in total strikeouts per nine innings, according to NCAA.com. That’s a theme Lee is happy to see.
“It’s a philosophy that we want to strike everybody out,” Lee said. “You never really hear that, you always hear ‘pitch to contact,’ but I’m just the opposite. If the situation dictates, we want to strike everybody out.”
Imhof bounced back from last weekend’s 13-2 loss to UC Santa Barbara, where the southpaw allowed three earned runs in five innings, by allowing just two runs, neither earned, against Hawaii.
He boasts the Big West’s second-best ERA among starters at 1.51, trailing only Cal State Fullerton’s Thomas Eshelman.
“He’s hitting his spots and has really good fastball command and velocity,” Lee said. “His slider is getting better and better. He actually should have had a chance to go eight scoreless.”
But an error by junior left fielder Tim Wise on a catchable ball hit to deep left-center in the eighth inning helped the Rainbows push across their first run and forced Lee to pull Imhof.
The Mustangs got on the board early with a two-run first inning. Sophomore right fielder Nick Torres hit a sacrifice fly that scored senior Denver Chavez from third, and freshman designated hitter Brian Mundell’s 0-19 slump-breaking infield single and a subsequent Hawaii throwing error helped score junior Jimmy Allen for the second tally.
Torres got his second RBI of the night on another sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to give the Mustangs their final and winning run.
At the dish, Chavez continued his early season tear, going 1 for 3 with a walk. He leads the team with a .405 batting clip, good enough for second in the conference among everyday starters.
With the win, Cal Poly maintained second place in the Big West standings behind conference leader Cal State Fullerton (31-4, 8-0). The Mustangs play the Titans in a three-game set next weekend at Baggett Stadium, but not before Sunday’s final game against Hawaii and a Tuesday night home matchup against Santa Clara.