SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – No. 5 Cal Poly led 5-1 early but Sacramento State battled back and had the potential tying run on base in the ninth inning before the Mustangs were able to escape with a 6-5 win in an elimination game at the NCAA Regional in San Luis Obispo.
The loss ended the season for Sacramento State (40-24), which won its most games since the 1991 season and earned the program's first WAC title while playing in its first NCAA Div. I Regional. The Hornets also had their first Div. I Tournament win on Saturday, eliminating No. 18 Arizona State. Pepperdine (42-16) defeated Cal Poly (47-12) 10-6 later on Sunday to win the region.
"That was an unbelievable game," head coach Reggie Christiansen said. "Both teams played hard and I'm really proud of our guys. We got off to a rough start down 5-1, but got back into it. We had a chance to win at the end and I can't be more proud of our guys."
In the ninth inning Cal Poly closer Reed Reilly got the first two outs but Hornet freshman Brandon Hunley kept his team alive with a single. Reilly and Hornet junior left fielder Kyle Moses then had an epic 10 pitch at-bat in which Moses fell behind 0-2. He fouled off three pitches before evening the count at 2-2, and then fouled off three more pitches before Reilly got him to pop out to second base to end the game.
"The goal was to play in the NCAA Tournament and not just gain some experience," said Christiansen after leading his team to the first NCAA Div. I Regional in program history. "We came here expecting to win the whole thing. By being in the games that we we're in, that's going to give this group the experience they need to win a regional."
The Hornets never-say-die attitude that was a hallmark of the season continued on Sunday after a rough start to the contest. Cal Poly scored once in each of the first three innings, including a leadoff homer from outfielder Zack Zehner to open the second. Sacramento State got one run back in the bottom of the third as junior Scotty Burcham hit a leadoff double and Moses brought him home with a 2-out single, but the Mustangs came back with two runs in the fourth on a bloop two-run double by first baseman John Schuknecht.
Down 5-1, the Hornet rally began in the fifth inning as senior David Del Grande drew a leadoff walk, Burcham singled to left, and sophomore Dane Fujinaka hit an RBI single. With runners on the corners the Mustangs were able to turn a double play but Burcham came in to score to make it a 5-3 game.
Cal Poly got one run back in the seventh, but in the eighth the Hornets were able to get within a one-run deficit. Moses doubled off Reilly to open the inning and came in on an RBI single from sophomore Chris Lewis. Junior Rhys Hoskins then reached on a botched fielder's choice as Lewis slid in safely at third, and senior Will Soto followed with a sacrifice fly to make it a 6-5 game.
Sophomore Sutter McLoughlin set the Mustangs down in order in the top of the ninth on just nine pitches to keep the deficit at one, but, after giving up two runs in the eighth, Reilly was able to finish the game in the ninth for his 12th save of the season.
"We've been through so much this season," Fujinaka said. "I think the mid-point of our season is when our guys started to pick it up and guys started to get better each and every day. I'm just super proud of our team."
Redshirt freshman Justin Dillon started for the Hornets and allowed five runs on four hits and four walks over four innings. Freshman Chad Perry was superb in relief, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks over four innings to keep the Hornets in the game. Cal Poly starter Justin Calomeni also lasted just four innings, allowing three runs, while reliever Bryan Granger pitched 2.2 scoreless innings to earn the win.
Burcham finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Moses had his second two-hit game of the regional. Schuknecht. Cal Poly's No. 9 hitter, went 2-for-4 with two doubles after going 2-for-3 against the Hornets when the teams met on Friday.
Over the three Hornet games in their first Div. I regional, Moses went 5-for-12 (.417) with a walk and scored two runs out of the leadoff spot, senior Scott Loper hit .375, and Burcham hit .333 with four runs scored. As a team Sacramento State was held to a .207 batting average over the three games but drew 13 walks and was only outscored by two runs, proving that they belonged amongst such elite opposition in a very competitive regional.
Burcham and Moses were named to the All-San Luis Obispo Regional Team.