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With the seats behind home plate packed with professional baseball scouts, junior southpaw Matt Imhof delivered on the mound Friday night.
He allowed three hits and one earned run to power top-seeded Cal Poly past No. 4 Sacramento State in the San Luis Obispo Regional. The win earned the Mustangs a date with No. 3 Pepperdine in the winners bracket on Saturday.
However, Imhof — who entered the postseason ranked third in the country with 11.78 strikeouts per nine innings — did not dominate in his traditional manner. He struck out just four batters and allowed five walks, including base on balls to the first two hitters of the game.
“Imhof was just effectively wild tonight, I think (that) was the biggest thing,” Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen said. “He was in and out of the strike zone and made it difficult on our guys. When you play in the Western Athletic Conference you don’t see as many quality arms as Imhof.”
The Mustangs (46-10) will play Pepperdine (40-16) at 6 p.m. Saturday after the Waves hung on for a 3-2 win over Arizona State (33-23) in the regional opener earlier Friday. Cal Poly and Pepperdine split the season series in two mid-week games where each squad won at home.
With the win, Cal Poly improved to 28-3 at Baggett Stadium this season.
“We came out ready to play,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “The two-week layoff did not hurt us offensively, we swung the bat extremely well… Overall very good, the first game is always the toughest to get out of the way and get your bearings.”
Cal Poly gave up just three hits on the day and junior reliever Reed Reilly pitched 1 1/3 innings to earn his 11th save of the season.
Sophomore first baseman John Schuknecht collected two hits and an RBI in a breakout performance that included a triple off the left field wall and a bomb over the fence that turned just foul. Sophomore second baseman Mark Mathias also had two hits to pace the Mustangs.
“I struggled through most of the season up until a couple weeks ago,” Schuknecht said. “I really wasn’t feeling comfortable at the plate and coach Lee gave me an opportunity in one of the games and I cashed in on it. And right now I feel locked in and it feels as good as it could at the plate right now.”
The rest of the Big West Conference also cashed in on the first day of regional action as all four teams won their opening matchups. Several national seeds fell on Friday too as Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State and Florida lost their games.
Fort Worth Regional host TCU beat Siena in extra innings 2-1. The winner of that regional will face the winner of the San Luis Obispo Regional in the Super Regional round.
Before worrying about that, Cal Poly will first have to turn its focus to Pepperdine and its two-way standout Aaron Brown. He notched an RBI against Arizona State and sports an 11-1 record and 2.24 ERA on the mound to go along with a team-leading 12 home runs. The Mustangs will counter with their 12-game winner sophomore right-hander Casey Bloomquist (12-1, 1.60 ERA)
“(Brown’s) a legit guy on the mound and their hitters are experienced, so we’ll have our work cut out for us,” Lee said.
Sacramento State (39-23) got two hits from senior second baseman Scott Loper and another from junior left fielder Kyle Moses. The Hornets will play the Sun Devils in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game where the loser will be eliminated from the tournament.