Jefferson P. Nolan
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Under the lights of Baggett Stadium on Tuesday night, the Cal Poly baseball team soundly defeated San Jose State 12-5.
But judging by the blank faces of the players, you would never be able to tell if the Mustangs had won or lost. As the ballplayers walked to the dugout from their post-game meeting, each had a placid look on their face — never too high and never too low.
Ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, the Mustangs (35-5, 11-1 Big West Conference) have mastered a persona that indicates they have seen success before.
“We try not to buy into the hype,” sophomore second baseman Mark Mathias said. “Coach talked to us about not getting our heads too big … we still have to play to our potential. There’s a reason why we’re No. 1 in the nation, and if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll be there in Omaha.”
Senior first baseman Tim Wise recorded a career-high four hits in the Tuesday night non-conference matchup.
“I was just doing my job,” he said. “That was it.”
When the polls came out on Monday labeling Cal Poly as the top-ranked team, Wise didn’t even look at the listings.
“I try and stay away from that as much as possible,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling, but we need to make sure we keep our emotions under control and do what we need to do.”
And on Tuesday, the Mustangs did what they do best. Focused on playing small ball as head coach Larry Lee’s team executed bunts, hit-and-runs and produced hits with men in scoring position.
Junior outfielder Zack Zehner drew first blood with a two-out drive to right field, scoring two runs in the first inning. Capitalizing with runners in scoring position and taking advantage of a disappointing defensive performance from San Jose State (12-29), Cal Poly continued to tack on runs throughout the game.
Freshman right-hander Slater Lee (3-1) dominated the Spartan offense for his first win since late February. He allowed one run on five hits in five innings pitched.
The only rocky moments for the Mustangs came late in the game when the Cal Poly bullpen began to falter. Junior southpaw Taylor Chris earned a critical bases-loaded out, but in the ninth, junior reliever Bryan Granger worked himself into a hole with a pair of hit batters and walks.
“We did enough to win, but we didn’t play to our capabilities,” Lee said. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and we’ve got a long way to go. It’s about the end game. It’s not about where we are now. As long as we continue to get better as a team, that’s the important part.”
While the Mustangs claimed the top ranking by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Cal Poly sits at No. 2 in both the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls and No. 3 in both the Perfect Game poll and in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll.
On Tuesday night, the alternatively acclaimed No. 1 team Virginia (34-7) dodged a bullet in a 5-4 extra-inning victory over Virginia Commonwealth University.
The Mustangs will hit the road this weekend when they take on the Long Beach State (18-20, 5-4 Big West) for a three-game series at Blair Field.