SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Junior southpaw Matt Imhof and junior right-hander Danny Zandona combined on a four-hitter as No. 3 Cal Poly blanked Cal State Fullerton 8-0 in a Big West Conference baseball series opener Thursday night before 2,402 in Baggett Stadium, the Mustangs' first shutout over the Titans in their 20-year Division I history.
Sophomore second baseman Mark Mathias and junior right fielder Nick Torres both collected three of Cal Poly's 16 hits as the Mustangs improved to 32-5 for the season and 9-1 for first place in the Big West with their eighth straight victory, matching Cal Poly's longest winning streak of the season.
Cal State Fullerton, which announced a few hours prior to the game that third-year head coach Rick Vanderhook had been placed on paid administrative leave after the university had received allegations that it is obligated to review, fell to 18-14 and 3-4, suffering its third straight loss. The Titans are four-time defending Big West Conference champions and have reached the postseason for 22 consecutive years.
Imhof (8-2) struck out nine, walked four and allowed just two hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings, exceeding his win total compiled during the 2013 season when the Golden Spikes Award watch list member and Mission San Jose High School graduate went 7-3. Imhof retired the first 10 Titan batters of the game.
Zandona tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Imhof, allowing two hits and no walks with four strikeouts. Imhof and Zandona combined to strike out 13 Cal State Fullerton batters.
The loss went to Titan sophomore right-hander Justin Garza (2-2), making his first start in more than a month due to a shoulder injury. Garza, 12-0 a year ago, surrendered seven runs (four earned) and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings with one walk and two strikeouts.
Cal Poly scored a run in the first inning on sophomore designated hitter Brian Mundell's single up the middle, extending his hitting streak to 12 games, and broke the game open with a six-run fourth-inning rally moments after Imhof picked off a pair of Titan runners to quell a rally in the top of the frame.
Senior catcher Chris Hoo singled through the left side of the Titan infield to knock in the first two runs. Hoo is 20-for-50 (.400) with runners in scoring position and has knocked in nine runs in 14 opportunities with a runner at third and less than two outs.
Mathias singled and junior center fielder Jordan Ellis walked to load the bases and Torres singled to right field to drive home two more runs. When the ball skipped past Titan right fielder Tyler Stieb for an error, Ellis scored from first and Torres also scored.
Torres also singled to left-center field to knock in a run in the fifth inning and cap the scoring for the game. He finished 3-for-5 with three RBI, elevating his batting average to .340.
Mathias also was 3-for-5 at the plate and has hit safely in 26 of his last 27 games, raising his batting average to .400. Mathias is 43-for-96 (.447) during his 27-game blitz, hitting in 17 straight games before it was snapped by Bakersfield on April 1, then starting another streak which is now at nine games.
Hoo, Mundell, senior third baseman Jimmy Allen and junior left fielder Zack Zehner each produced a pair of hits for Cal Poly, which had 15 hits in a 9-1 win over Bakersfield on Tuesday and is now hitting .304 on the year. Allen has started 161 consecutive games, including the last 152 at third base, for the Mustangs.
Cal State Fullerton's four hits were singles by four different players.
Cal Poly is now 21-2 at home, 22-2 against right-handed starting pitchers, 30-0 when leading after seven innings and 27-2 when outhitting opponents. The Mustangs are 27 games above the .500 mark for the first time in their 20-year Division I history.
Cal Poly, which has won 14 of its last 15 games and 22 of 24, has beaten Cal State Fullerton nine times in their last 22 meetings, though the Titans still own a 63-36 advantage in the all-time series that started in 1996.
The two teams play for the 100th time Friday night at 6 o'clock in Baggett Stadium, with Cal Poly freshman right-hander Slater Lee (2-1, 5.45 ERA) to face Cal State Fullerton sophomore righty Thomas Eshelman (5-1, 2.08 ERA).
Photo of Nick Torres scoring ahead of three teammates in fourth inning courtesy of Owen Main | www.fansmanship.com