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Behind the bat of junior first baseman Brian Mundell, who returned to head coach Larry Lee’s lineup after being sidelined for three-weeks due to a hamstring injury, the Cal Poly baseball team returned to form on all sides of the ball, earning a 6-4 win as well as a series spilt against Sacramento State in the Mustangs’ cleanest game of the four-game set Sunday at Baggett Stadium.
The Mustangs tallied six earned runs on eight hits while playing mistake-free defense and walking just two.
Everything just clicked,” Mundell said after the game, “We had good pitching, timely hitting, good defense … the last couple weeks we’ve had just one part of that — we’ve had good pitching or defense, or good hitting and pitching but without the good defense — so it’s important to come together and have an all together good game like that.”
Mundell, batting second in the lineup behind Cal Poly’s other premier hitter, junior Matt Mathias, went 2-for-4 with two home runs, as well as four RBIs and a walk while Mathias was again resigned to designated hitter duties as he recovers from an injury, also picked up two hits, two runs and a walk.
“It’s good to get Brian a full game under his belt with no repercussions from the hamstring,” Lee said. “He’ll get some added rest this week and hopefully is 100 percent come Friday and will avoid any more setbacks the ret of the season.”
Mundell’s first home run of the game proved Lee’s optimism right. The home run, a first-inning rocket to left field that gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game, came just two at-bats after Mathias’ lead-off walk. Sunday’s game was also the first time the two were in the same lineup all year.
“They add a presence for us,” Lee of the tandem. “They’re two of the better players in the entire country and when one of them is not in the lineup it means the tradeoff of who you do put in is not a good one.
Getting Sac State starter Ty Nichols off-balance early proved pivotal as the Mustangs’ Mathias-Mundell duo combined with back-to-back doubles from senior right fielder Zack Zehner and senior center fielder Jordan Ellis for the early 3-0 lead.
On the pitching side of things, Cal Poly freshman starter Michael Gomez briefly settled after escaping a slight jam in the top of the first in which the Hornets sent five men to the plate.
Gomez, who earned the chance to start Sunday’s series finale after compiling a 2.45 ERA over 11 innings in relief, posted scoreless innings again in the second and third before giving up four runs on four hits in the fourth, ending his day.
Sophomore pitcher Justin Calomeni was called in for relief and was able to stop the bleeding with an inning-ending strikeout.
“Michael and I are really similar pitchers,” Calomeni said of the fourth-inning transition, “Our number one pitch for both of us is our fastball and we just trusted ourselves to just keep throwing it in the strike zone see if they can hit it.”
Following the fourth, the Hornets mustered only three hits and one walk off Calomeni, who closed out the final six innings while striking out six and walking two in his first win of the year.
“It was great because he finished the game,” Lee said. “We had Danny Zandona warming up but that would have been his third outing this weekend. (Calomeni) deserved to be out there and his performance is what we need if we’re going to be successful.”
Still down a run heading into the bottom of the fifth, the return of Mundell would again prove huge for a Mustangs squad that was shutout the past two nights.
Ahead in the count on Sac State reliever Jake Stassi, Mundell was got on top of yet another Hornets pitch, this time sending a line drive over the left field fence for his third and fourth RBIs of the game to put the Mustangs on top 5-4.
“We stuck with the approach we’ve had success with and that’s just seeing the ball over the plate and trying to execute and score runs,” Mundell said. “It’s good to see the team play this way again and obviously I’m happy to be back in the lineup. I think it’s good momentum going into next weekend.”
Sunday’s win ends a two-game losing streak to the Hornets and marks the first time Lee was able to stack his three best hitters— Mathias, Mundell and junior infielder Peter Van Gansen — in one lineup.
“The key to any offense is getting the leadoff man on and so that’s why I just had my best three hitters at the top,” Lee said of the strategy. “You want to get them as many at bats as possible because even with two outs and nobody on those guys are dangerous.”
Mathias, Van Gansen and Mundell are now all batting .400 or better on the year heading into next weekend’s huge series against the visiting USC Trojans.
“I just think when you have from an offensive standpoint Mundell and Mathias in the same lineup you naturally have more confidence as a team,” Lee added. “Hopefully eventually we’ll get Mark back at second base and hopefully our best baseball is ahead of us … but it’s going to be a tough road.”