SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – After falling behind 4-0 early Hornet starter Sam Long and reliever Alex Palsha kept their team close and the Hornet offense got a pair of runs in the eighth inning but No. 5 Cal Poly held on for a 4-2 win on the first day of the San Luis Obispo NCAA Regional.
Sacramento State (39-23), which was playing its first Div. I NCAA Tournament game in program history, will face No. 18 Arizona State (33-23) in an elimination game on Saturday at 1 p.m. Cal Poly will play Pepperdine (40-16) in the winners bracket on Saturday after the Waves beat Arizona State 3-2 on Friday afternoon.
"I'm proud of this guy right here (Long). Sam kept us in the game," head coach Reggie Christiansen said. "I thought their guy (Matt Imhof) was special. I'm proud of the way our guys competed, and I thought we were in the game. Cal Poly was just the better team tonight."
Imhof, a junior lefty for Cal Poly that is expected to be a high MLB draft pick next week, allowed just one hit over his first seven innings of work and gave up only one earned run on three hits over 7.2 innings pitched. The Mustangs scored four times in the first four innings against Long, but the Hornet freshman threw three scoreless innings after that to keep the team within striking distance.
In the top of the eighth sophomore Dane Fujinaka drew a leadoff walk followed by singles from senior Scott Loper and junior Kyle Moses as the Hornets loaded the bases with nobody out. Imhof got sophomore Nathan Lukes to hit into a double play but the first Hornet run scored.
Closer Reed Reilly then relived Imhof and got a groundball to third from sophomore Chris Lewis that was booted by third baseman Jimmy Allen to allow Loper to score. That would be the last base runner for the Hornets, though, as Reilly got junior Rhys Hoskins to ground out to end the eighth and set down the side in order in the ninth.
Long allowed eight hits over seven innings and had just two walks and four strikeouts before Palsha retired the Mustangs in order in the bottom of the eighth. Imhoff allowed only three hits but walked five in the game while Reilly earned his 11th save.
Cal Poly got on the board in the second inning as left fielder Zach Zehner hit a leadoff triple and scored on a sacrifice fly. The Mustangs doubled their lead in the third inning off a leadoff single and ensuing RBI double from Mark Mathias. In the fourth, first baseman John Schuknecht drove home a run with a two-out triple and scored on a single by Mathias to give Cal Poly its early 4-0 lead.
Loper had two of the three Hornet hits, as his double in the third inning was the only Sacramento State hit until he singled in the seventh. Mathias and Schuknecht, the team's No. 9 hitter, each had two hits for the Mustangs, who improved to 41-0 this season when leading after six innings and 28-3 overall on their home field.
Sacramento State also dropped its opening game at the WAC Tournament last week before winning four straight to claim the conference title and advance to its first Div. I NCAA Regional. Christiansen's team was disappointed with the loss on Friday but knows it can come back strong.
"Our guys expected to win tonight. The bus ride back to the hotel is not going to be one of feeling like we accomplished something," he said. "These guys expect to win. We don't want to be the first team going home, I can tell you that. We're ready to go and have Alex and (Sutter McLoughlin) still ready tomorrow. We like our chances."