LOS ANGELES — It was a breakthrough day for the Cal Poly baseball program.
The Mustangs earned their first-ever Division I regional win when they defeated No. 3 seed San Diego 9-2, Friday afternoon at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium. The second-seeded Mustangs also posted their third 40-win season in program history and starting pitcher Joey Wagman’s win, No. 13 on the season, was also a new single-season record.
The Mustangs came out with the intent to make a statement. But what they made was much different than the statement initially intended.
During pregame introductions, the Jackie Robinson Stadium public address announcer mistakenly introduced the team as the “Cal Poly Pomona Broncos.” For a school that’s less than 200 miles away from Westwood, there sure was a lot of confusion.
“Pretty standard, Cal Poly not getting the recognition that we deserve,” said Wagman. “Hopefully this performance will turn some heads and change some minds.”
It’s safe to say that the performance turned more than a few heads.
Facing a previously-undefeated PJ Conlon, the Mustangs jumped on him right from the start. Brian Mundell heeded coach Larry Lee’s advice to strike first and launched a towering solo home run in the first inning, his 11th of the season.
“It was pretty cool, just to kind of get out in the first inning and set the momentum for the game,” Mundell said. “Coach Lee preaches that the first team that scores is usually the first one who wins.”
“Every time this guy is at bat, I think he’s going to hit a home run,” Wagman said. “He has that presence in the box and that confidence in our dugout.”
The last time the Mustangs found themselves in the postseason in 2009, it was a young team that simply overachieved and wasn’t ready to face the challenges of the postseason.
“Each year is different and you work so hard just to get this opportunity to play in the postseason. And we talked yesterday, you don’t want to come out here and play well all season and enter postseason and have their wheels fall off the cart,” Lee said. Now they have a good sense of what Regionals were all about.”
Cal Poly (40-17) will face host UCLA (40-17) Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Big Game, big names
No. 1 UCLA’s Adam Plutko remains undefeated in the postseason, moving his record to 5-0 with the Bruins’ 5-3 win over No. 4 seed San Diego State in the second game of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional.
Plutko spent time in the shadows of former UCLA pitchers Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole, first-round picks in 2011, but the junior right-hander has quietly made a name for himself in the two years since the duo was drafted.
“When you first commit to a program like UCLA, you just hope that you can live up to your expectations,” Plutko said. “And for me to set the record with all of the other great pitchers and for me to even be talked about in the same sentence as Trevor Bauer and every single record he owns here, it’s unbelievable.”
Plutko has made a reputation for himself as a big game pitcher. He won his start in Omaha at last year’s College World Series and has yet to lose in the postseason.
“He’s had one of the best careers of any bruins that’s ever pitched here and really, one of the best postseason pitchers in school history,” Savage said.
Brotherly Love, city rivalries
San Diego State catcher Jake Romanski had the biggest game for the fourth-seeded Aztecs, going 2-for-4 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored. It was a performance reminiscent of another Romanski, his older brother Josh.
Except Josh played for the other San Diego team, as in the University of, and the team Jake will face Saturday afternoon.
“Playing (at San Diego State) I got a little bit of a tough time,” Jake said. “Sports-wise, there’s always been an ongoing rivalry. I always want to beat him and he always wants to beat me.”
However, Josh, a White Sox farmhand, knows when to quit the ribbing and support his younger brother.
“He’s always rooting for me. He’s my biggest fan and my best friend,” Jake said.
Around the Big West All three Big West teams won their opening games. Cal State Fullerton, a No. 5 national seed, played host to Columbia at Goodwin Field. Freshman pitcher Grahamm Weist, typically the Sunday starter, held the Ivy League champs to just one run to help the third-ranked Titans to their eight-straight win, a 4-1 effort.
UC Santa Barbara’s Austin Pettibone showed his competitiveness when he was pulled in the seventh inning against No. 2-seed Texas A&M. The Gauchos went on to win 6-4 in the Corvallis, Ore., regional, giving Pettibone his first-ever postseason win.
“I think he was a little disappointed about being pulled out of the game and he made a couple of comments under his breath,” said coach Andrew Checketts. “Good-natured comments because we have that kind of relationship. He was almost right that we should have left him in there to close it, but Dylan (Hecht) has been our closer all year.”