The No. 16 Cal Poly baseball team hasn’t been an underdog often this year, but after No. 4 Cal State Fullerton (32-6, 8-2 Big West) jumped out to a 1-0 lead after four batters, it clearly was in a hole.
But the Mustangs’ batters rallied just enough support to earn a come-from-behind victory after the conference-leading Titans on Friday night. The pitching staff held Cal State Fullerton’s explosive offense scoreless over the final eight frames while the offense generated two runs to produce a 2-1 victory.
“The emphasis isn’t on who we are playing, it’s on the game itself,” head coach Larry Lee said. “We did just enough offensively for the win. We got the right guys on base and were able to capitalize.”
Center fielder Jordan Ellis sparked the Mustangs’ offense with his third career three-hit game. The sophomore swatted a leadoff triple in the fourth inning, singled in the sixth and scored Cal Poly’s only runs.
Entering tonight’s game, the Mustangs (26-9, 7-3) owned a .287 batting average on the season, the third best in the conference.
“We’re a good offensive team,” right fielder Nick Torres said. “We’ve shown that throughout the year in flashes. We thrive off of being aggressive. That’s helped our team a lot this year.”
In the sixth inning, Ellis singled through the right side with one out then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jimmy Allen.
With two outs, Ellis on second and the game tied at one, Torres fouled off three pitches and worked into a full count.
He connected with the eighth pitch of the at bat with a single to center field, giving the Mustangs their first lead of the night.
“That’s probably the best at-bat I’ve ever seen Nick take,” starting pitcher Joey Wagman said. “You saw him foul off some pitches, take great swings, found a ball up and found a hole. It was an unbelievable job.”
On the hill, Wagman kept Cal State Fullerton’s bats quiet and earned his eighth win of the season, as well as his 22nd win at Cal Poly.
And against a team that leads the Big West in hits, on-base percentage and RBI, Wagman had to alter his approach.
“These guys refuse to strikeout,” Wagman said. “They’re not going to chase the pitches in the dirt, or anything like that, so you have to change it up a little bit and let your defense work, which it did today.”
Wagman, who didn’t record a strikeout in seven innings of work, allowed six hits and one run while walking two.
The senior handed the ball over to closer Reed Reilly, who faced seven hitters to record his 10th save of the season.
“You never want to come out of a game,” Wagman said. “But if you have to come out and you have to give the ball to Reed Reilly, you definitely feel a lot more comfortable. He’s unbelievable.”
The win gives the Mustangs sole possession of second place in the Big West and a win on Saturday against the Titans would knot the two teams atop the standings.
First pitch will come at 6 p.m. at Baggett Stadium and southpaw Matt Imhof will toe the rubber for Cal Poly.
The Mustangs will face Cal State Fullerton’s pitcher Justin Garza, who is unbeaten in 2013 and owns a 2.36 ERA. He’s walked seven batters in 61 innings.
“We’ll face some really quality pitchers the rest of the weekend,” Lee said. “We just need to be able to adjust. It’s just about outscoring your opponent.”
As Torres says, the key for the Mustangs is to stay relaxed and be focused, regardless of the opponent’s caliber.
“If you live in the moment, there is really no pressure at all,” Torres said.