SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Southpaw Matt Imhof and right-hander Reed Reilly combined on a three-hitter as Cal Poly defeated Sacramento State 4-2 on the opening day of the NCAA Division I San Luis Obispo Regional on Friday night before 2,922 in Baggett Stadium.
Cal Poly improved to 46-10 on the year and will face Pepperdine – a 3-2 winner over Arizona State – in the second round Saturday night at 6. Sacramento State (39-23) will play Arizona State in Saturday's opener at 1 o'clock.
Imhof (10-4) allowed two runs (one earned) and three hits in 7 2/3 innings with five walks and four strikeouts. Reilly collected his 11th save as he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings.
"I felt really good today," saiid Imhof. "I had a little bit of nerves, but I was really excited to be out there. In the first couple of innings, I was kind of trying to do too much and I overthrew a bit. But I got into the game, got my rhythm, and felt really good. My slider felt really good today; I was able to move my fastball to both sides of the plate and try and keep them off balance."
The crowd of 2,922 was the largest of the season in expanded Baggett Stadium.
"It was unbelievable, a packed house" said Imhof. "When I came off, that was the loudest I've ever heard a stadium in my entire life. The fans were really into the game, and you could just feel the energy. It's one of those things that you don't really get until the postseason. It was just unbelievable to play in front of a crowd like this tonight."
The loss went to Sacramento State freshman Sam Long (8-2) as he gave up four runs and eight hits in seven innings with two walks and four strikeouts. Alex Palsha pitched a scoreless eighth frame.
"Proud of this guy right here (Long)," said Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen. "Sam kept us in the game. I thought their guy (Imhof) was special. Proud of the way our guys competed and I thought we were in the game. Cal Poly is just a better team."
Added Long, "It was great experience, to say the least. I just made a few mistakes and they made me pay for it. That's baseball. I've just got to learn and next time hopefully do better."
"Sac State is a very good team that came in hot after winning the regular season championship and then the conference tournament," said Mustang head coach Larry Lee. "I think we came out ready to play. The two-week layoff did not hurt us. We swung the bats very well.
"The first game is always the toughest just to get it out of the way, kind of get your bearings" Lee added. "Matt pitched an extremely good game, and we had some timely hitting. We came out ready to play, and I'm really happy with the outcome."
Cal Poly jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first four innings.
Zack Zehner (left) tripled leading off the second inning and came home on Jimmy Allen's sacrifice fly to right field. In the third, John Schuknecht singled and sprinted home on Mark Mathias' double to left-center field.
The Mustangs added two more runs in the fourth on an RBI triple by Schuknecht and a run-scoring single by Mathias.
Sacramento State scored its two runs in the eighth after Imhof had pitched a one-hit shutout through seven frames. Nathan Lukes grounded into a double play with the bases loaded, pushing across the first run. Scott Loper scored an unearned run on a Mustang error.
Cal Poly's eight-hit offensive attack was paced by Mathias and Schuknecht with two hits apiece. Mathias has hit safely in 42 of his last 45 games while Schuknecht has 12 hits in his last nine games, lifting his average 92 points to .270.
"I struggled through most of the season up until a few weeks ago," said Schuknecht. "I really wasn't feeling comfortable at the plate, and Coach Lee gave me an opportunity in one of the games. I finally cashed in on it. Right now, I feel locked in and as good as I can right now."
Sacramento State's three hits included a double by Loper.
Cal Poly has won seven straight and 10 of its last 11 games.
The Big West Conference posted a perfect 4-0 mark in the opening round of regional play as Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and UC Irvine earned victories Friday.
"It was funny because (Cal State Fullerton head coach) Rick Vanderhook sent a text to the Big West coaches in the regionals two days ago. We all responded, and his initial text was 'Let's show them what the Big West is all about.' I'm paraphrasing, but we all sent back our own little texts back to the group. It was actually a big sense of pride. I got a kick out of it. We like playing teams outside of the West. We beat up on each other all the time."
Photos by Ray Ambler