Junior right-hander Joey Wagman stole the spotlight on the mound scattering eight hits over eight innings of shutout baseball while redshirt freshmen Tommy Pluschkell shone at the plate driving in two runs off a one-out double in the second inning to help the Mustangs cruise to a 6-0 win over visiting UC Irvine (17-10, 3-1 Big West) on Thursday night.
In only his sixth career collegiate start, first baseman Pluschkell continued his offensive tear going 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs and proved that his was the only offense Cal Poly (18-10, 2-2 Big West) needed on the night.
“I’ve been waiting for my chance to help us win games,” Pluschkell said. “I felt like I was prepared before and I’ve just been putting in the work every day waiting for it and I’m glad to be able help contribute.”
Freshman Nick Torres struck out to start the inning, but was followed by David Armendariz’s slicing bloop single to right center with one out. Sophomore catcher Chris Hoo singled to left center and advanced to second on a throwing error by left fielder Jeff Stephens to put runners on second and third with one out for Pluschkell. The freshman out of Amador Valley High School rifled a double down the left field line to score Armendariz and Hoo and give the Mustangs a 2-0 early lead.
“Tommy was unbelievable,” Wagman said. “He broke open the game today with the first two runs. He’s playing fantastic defense…and he’s given everybody in the dugout a lift.
Later in the inning, sophomore Tim Wise reached base on a fielder’s choice as shortstop D.J. Crumlich botched the tag on Evan Busby who was advancing from second to third — the throw to first was not in time. The play scored Pluschkell from third. Big West RBI leader Mitch Haniger then flied out to deep left field to score Busby and give the Mustangs a 4-0 cushion after two innings.
Pluschkell has taken over duties at the revolving door that is first base for the Mustangs going 9 for 21 in eight total appearances. But, his greatest contribution has been his intangibles in the dugout, according to Wagman.
“We call him our Tim Tebow,” Wagman said. “He’s got that inspiration effect and he’s one of the hardest, if not the hardest workers on the team. He’s unbelievable and obviously he’s given us a spark and it’s great.”
Wagman provided an inspirational performance of his own throwing eight scoreless innings before being pulled in favor of 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman relief pitcher Reed Reilly. Wagman improved his season record to 5-2 allowing eight hits, one walk and striking out four batters in the process.
The junior hurler has never thrown a complete game shutout at any level despite coming close on Feb. 17 in a 6-0 defeat of Oklahoma State, a game in which he only allowed two hits through eight innings of work.
Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said he’s aware that Wagman has never gone the distance, but due to his high pitch count (110) through eight innings and being on five days rest decided to sit the starter for the final three outs.
“(His performance) shows you what Joey is all about,” Lee said. “He threw extremely well tonight and kept their hitters off balance; he really executed the game plan extremely well.”
Despite blustering conditions that had the wind blowing out to left center early in the ballgame, Wagman made quick work of the UC Irvine hitters. His only scare came in the top of the sixth as the Anteaters had men on second and third with one out following two singles and a wild pitch. Wagman then struck out Christian Ramirez and pinch-hitter Kris Paulino in order to end the threat. He held Big West batting average leader Connor Spencer to one hit.
“It’s fun to pitch (at home) at night because you can give up a couple hard hit balls and they won’t go too far,” Wagman said. “It makes it easy to attack guys. That’s the biggest thing, it gives me a little more confidence. When it’s cold like this the ball is not going to travel as far.”
The Mustangs extended their lead in the fifth inning off three straight doubles from Haniger, sophomore Jimmy Allen and Torres that drove in two more runs to give Cal Poly its final cushion of the game, 6-0.
The storyline for the Anteaters throughout the night was missed opportunities. They stranded nine runners, seven of which reached scoring position. UC Irvine, the Big West Conference’s leader in ERA entering the game, experienced a bit of role reversal in having Wagman and Reilly combine for the shutout. It was only the second time this season that Anteaters been blanked.
“It was a good start to the series for us and now we got our work cut out for us in game two,” Lee said.
Senior Kyle Anderson (4-1, 2.27 ERA) will be on the bump tonight for Cal Poly as the Mustangs return to the diamond at 6 p.m. in Baggett Stadium.