Senior catcher Chris Hoo went 3 for 5 with two RBIs in Sunday's win over UC Irvine. | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Rafael Salinas
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The No. 5 Cal Poly baseball team moved closer to earning its first-ever NCAA regional bid on Sunday afternoon with a 10-3 victory and series win against No. 16 UC Irvine. The Mustangs — who won on Saturday after dropping Friday’s series opener — moved to within a half-game of the conference-leading Anteaters and improved their Big West record to 16-5. UC Irvine’s conference record now sits at 15-3.

The Mustangs have three conference games remaining, while UC Irvine has six, including a series at third-place Long Beach State in the final weekend of the season.

A conference title would likely help the Mustangs earn a regional bid to give them home field advantage for the first round of the postseason. The Mustangs went 27-3 at home this year.

“All that we can control is taking care of St. Mary’s on Tuesday,” junior right fielder Nick Torres said. “We just have to handle business and we’ll go from there.”

Wins similar to Sunday’s dominating performance will need to become habitual again if Cal Poly hopes to move deep in the postseason. After scoring two runs in Friday’s series-opening loss and one in Saturday’s win, Cal Poly’s offense broke out for two runs in each of the first five innings on Sunday.

“It’s all about thinking small and not thinking big,” head coach Larry Lee said. “Our guys aren’t thinking past Tuesday.

Junior outfielder Zack Zehner hit a two-RBI single — made possible by a UC Irvine error —  in the first to set the tone early.

In the second inning, junior center fielder Jordan Ellis hit a single through the left side to score sophomore shortstop Peter Van Gansen. Torres then got jammed on a pitch and sent a blooper just over the outstretched glove of Anteaters first baseman Connor Spencer to score another run later in the frame.

In the third inning, back-to-back triples by Zehner and senior catcher Chris Hoo added one run, while a well-executed squeeze play by Van Gansen scored Hoo from third. Torres capped the Mustang scoring barrage in the fifth inning with a two-run home run over the 385 sign in left field.

“This is the best we’ve felt,” Torres said. “We had a good streak in the middle of the year, then a rough patch, but now we’re back to playing our best baseball.”

Sophomore starting pitcher Casey Bloomquist got the win as he threw six innings and gave up two runs on five hits.

If the Mustangs sweep Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine loses at least two of its remaining six contests, Cal Poly will clinch the Big West crown. For each additional Cal Poly loss next weekend, the Anteaters would have to lose another game for the Mustangs to take the title.

“We play at home really well,” Torres said. “We have a good routine at home. On the road, the big thing that throws you off is that you’re not in your usual routine.”

UC Irvine has two conference series remaining against two top-tier teams in the Big West. The Anteaters host Cal State Fullerton for three games before visiting the 49ers in Long Beach for another series to end the regular season.

Cal Poly takes on St. Mary’s in a non-conference game on Tuesday before finishing up the season against Cal State Northridge this weekend.

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