Joey Wagman was on the ropes. His team was trailing 2-1 Friday afternoon in the first game of the Los Angeles Regional.
He was in danger of allowing San Diego to open up the game. To start the sixth inning, Wagman, Cal Poly’s ace, walked the No. 8 hitter and then threw away a potential double play ball.
He stepped off the mound to compose himself as the nation’s premier slugger, San Diego’s Kris Bryant, strolled to the plate.
“Alright. Here it is. They’re best guy,” Wagman said he thought. “Just try to go after him, but we know what he’s capable of.”
Wagman wasn’t thinking of much else but throwing his best stuff: “Here it is. Hit it. And we’ll see where it goes after that.”
The senior right hander dug into his repertoire and fed Bryant his four-pitch mix, including a changeup that Bryant said he doesn’t often see from right-handed pitchers. The count ran to 2-2 before Wagman fooled Bryant enough to get one by him for the strikeout. Wagman followed it up with a big deuce to strikeout AJ Robinson and induced a lazy fly ball to end the inning.
“You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them,” Bryant said afterwards. “Obviously, if I was put in that situation again, I think the outcome would be a little different. My focus would have been a little sharper. I would have hit the ball hard.”
The Mustangs’ offense carried the momentum from Wagman’s big stop to the dish and plated two runs to give their ace the lead. Its next at bat, Cal Poly (40-17) erupted for a six-run sixth inning, which was safe and sound in the hands of Wagman. He only got stronger as his outing progressed. He allowed only one hit after the fourth inning, pitching eight innings to lead Cal Poly to a 9-2 win over San Diego (35-23) at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Wagman collected his school record 13th win and gave the Mustangs their first ever Division I Regional victory. They also eclipsed the 40-win plateau for only the third time in school history — having won 41 games in 1977 and 1992 while still a Division II program.
“It’s a good feeling and now our players know what to expect,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “Tomorrow’s obviously a different ballgame. It’ll be a challenge. Every ballgame has been a challenge for us this year. But now they have a good sense of what the Regionals are all about.”
Cal Poly took an early lead on a solo home run to dead centerfield by stocky freshman designated hitter Brian Mundell. San Diego battled back with Andrew Daniel plating runs in the second and fourth innings.
But it was the fifth and sixth innings that determined the outcome of the game. After Wagman escaped the fifth inning, Cal Poly strung together three consecutive singles. Left fielder Lucas Hagberg unable to make a diving catch on the third single, a Denver Chavez flare to shallow left, allowing the Mustangs to tie the game. Mundell hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning to put them ahead.
Wagman needed only nine pitches to get through the sixth inning, quickly getting the Cal Poly offense back up to bat. San Diego freshman lefty PJ Conlon, who entered the game with an unblemished record, ran out of gas in the sixth. He allowed two singles and two walks to plate a run before being removed in favor of veteran Michael Wagner.
Wagner hit the first batter to make the score 5-2, but got a pop out and was one out away from minimizing the jam. Wagner fell behind Mundell and the freshman made him pay, shooting a laser just over the glove of the leaping shortstop. Jimmy Allen added a two-run single of his own to make it 9-2.
Mundell finished the game 2-for-4 with four RBI while Allen collected his first four-hit game of the season.
“Jimmy had a great game and you hope that carries over,” Lee said. “Your offense and your hitting is contagious so if you get a couple of guys swinging the bat, it takes the pressure off of everybody else.”
Connor Joe and Austin Green each had two hits for San Diego, but the Mustangs were able to hold Bryant without a hit.
The Mustangs advance to the winner’s bracket where they’ll face top seed No. 10 UCLA tomorrow evening. San Diego falls into the loser’s bracket where they will have to win four games to potentially advance to the Super Regionals for the first time under head coach Rich Hill.
Check out the 20-shot photo gallery from Game 1 of the Los Angeles Regional: