(Photo courtesy of Melissa Lundie)
A ball lost in the pale, blue Los Angeles sunset.
That was the difference for the Cal Poly baseball team on Saturday night, as a miscue by Nick Torres in right field cost the Mustangs three runs, eventually leading to a 6-4 loss to UCLA in Cal Poly’s second game at the Los Angeles Regional.
“Off the bat, I just saw a pop-up, it didn’t look like he hit it too well,” Torres said. “It wasn’t until the ball got down below the lights until I saw it again. By that time it was just too late.”
The Bruins tied the game at four runs apiece in the sixth inning after Torres allowed a two-out fly ball to drop behind him with the bases loaded. UCLA then went on to tack on two more runs in the seventh inning.
“(It was a) tough one to swallow,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said.
The Mustangs jumped all over UCLA pitcher Nick Vander Tuig in the first inning, as the first two Cal Poly batters reached on back-to-back singles.
“They jumped on us the first three innings,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “They mugged us, basically.”
Torres drove in the first Cal Poly run with a sacrifice fly and Jimmy Allen plated a second run with a RBI-double down the left-field line.
The Cal Poly bats kept the pressure on Vander Tuig, scoring runs in the third and fourth innings, while starting pitcher Matt Imhof cruised through the Bruins batters. He had a no-hitter through five innings before he began tipping his pitches and UCLA took advantage, he said. The first three Bruins reached in the sixth inning before he forced a sacrifice fly, allowing a run to score.
The UCLA batters denied after the game that they knew what pitches were coming.
“That would’ve been nice,” UCLA designated hitter Kevin Williams said.
Imhof nearly got out of the inning on a double-play ball up the middle in the following at-bat, but second baseman Denver Chavez couldn’t pull the ball out of his glove in time and the bases became loaded again.
Lee then elected to pull Imhof in favor of Reed Reilly, traditionally a closer, who struck out the first Bruins batter he faced, then forced a fly ball to Torres in right field.
“He came in and did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Lee said. “He got the fly ball and it probably would’ve been a different ballgame (if he made the play).”
Torres initially tracked in and appeared to have the pop fly in his sights before turning around and running toward the wall, clearly having lost the ball.
“It just got above the lights and I had no idea where it was,” Torres said.
Once the Bruins were ahead, adding two runs in the seventh inning, the Mustangs appeared overmatched by the UCLA bullpen, anchored by closer and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year David Berg.
Before Berg took the hill in the ninth and saved his 20th game of the season, the Mustangs had to get through James Kaprielian, a true freshman with a 1.54 ERA in 28 appearances this year.
Kaprielian struck out four of the six Mustangs he faced, and didn’t allow a base runner.
“Their relievers did a real good job, piecing it together near the end,” Lee said.
With the loss, the Mustangs will enter the losers’ bracket of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional and play in an elimination game Sunday afternoon against San Diego.
“How you respond says a lot about your character and your team,” Lee said. “This team has done it all year and I expect nothing less from them.”
Cal Poly defeated San Diego, 5-2, in game one of the regional on Friday.
“We will have a good scouting report,” Lee said. “San Diego is very good. They are very potent offensively.”
Right-hander Casey Bloomquist, who owns six wins and a 4.78 ERA on the season, will start on the mound for Cal Poly. He didn’t take over the weekend starter role until late in the season, when Lee decided to move Bryan Granger from the Sunday starter role and replace him with the true freshman.
A victory against San Diego would set the Mustangs up to play UCLA later on Sunday.
Cal Poly would need to beat UCLA twice in order to win the regional and advance to the Super Regional.
“Our goal is to last until Monday and hopefully play three more baseball games,” Lee said. “We’ve been resilient all year. We’ve had heartbreaking losses, and we’ve been able to turn it around.”
First pitch is at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday, and the Mustangs need three straight wins in two days to take home the title.
“You win at all costs from now on,” Lee said. “You just try to survive and get to the next game.”