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The Cal Poly baseball team moved up to No. 3 in the nation in four of the five major polls following a series sweep against Hawaii and heads into a pivotal series against conference rival Cal State Fullerton this weekend.
Cal State Fullerton, ranked No. 19 nationally, holds the advantage against Cal Poly historically, but the tables have turned heading into this weekend.
“We want to be the highest-ranked in the Big West,” starting pitcher Matt Imhof said. “We expect to win. It’s nice being ranked higher than our rival.”
The Titans are four-time national champions and have captured the Big West title for three consecutive years.
Cal State Fullerton’s success adds another incentive for the Mustangs to win their 10th series in 11 tried this season, head coach Larry Lee said.
“They’re still the team to beat,” Lee said. “They have the best starting pitching in the country. They’re still the team that needs to be taken down.”
Imhof echoed his coach’s hunger to beat the Titans.
“We look forward to a good series against a good team,” he said. “We’re excited to go out and play. Our team is ready to roll.”
The first step toward another series win begins Thursday, when Imhof will likely face Justin Garza (2-1, 2.60 ERA). Cal Poly’s left-hander is 7-2 on the year with a 2.07 ERA and will be followed by freshman right-hander Slater Lee (2-1, 5.45 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Casey Bloomquist (8-0, 1.58 ERA) to complete the series for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly is heading into the series with a seven-game win streak, a trend that has become common throughout the season. Cal Poly has produced five stretches of at least four consecutive wins this season and boasts a overall record of 31-5. Larry Lee applauded his team for such consistency over 36 games.
“We come to play every game from start to finish,” Lee said. “It’s a great characteristic in baseball. We understand the importance of each win. Our consistency is a testament of being able to do that.”
The team is well aware of where it stands on the national radar and welcomes every bit of it, Imhof said.
“We embrace the hype,” he said. “We want to get the spotlight. I think we play better in the spotlight.”
The Mustangs’ approach to national recognition is unorthodox. A team in a similar position might shy away from the attention and downplay its importance, but Lee and his team are doing the opposite.
“We’ve made a point that our players should want the limelight and that target on our back,” Lee said. “That’s how you become comfortable in that position … You want to create an environment where they can be successful.”
The Mustangs have five series remaining until the postseason, but they still have much work to do. Four of the remaining five series include conference foes just below Cal Poly in the Big West standings, but each team is at least .500 in conference play.
Cal Poly sees each series as an opportunity to display its talent to the nation, but for now, the team is taking it one game at a time.
“We never concern ourselves about the rest of the year,” Lee said. “We only think about the next game.”
First pitch on Thursday and Friday is set for 6 p.m., while Saturday’s matinee is slated for 1 p.m.