Cal Poly Gets Its First NCAA Tournament Bid
(With the end of the year fast approaching, we’re counting down some of the top moments from the 2009 college baseball season. We’ll have one a day through New Year’s Eve.)
2009 was the 15th season for Cal Poly as a Division I baseball program. It’s not like baseball didn’t exist there before their first season at college baseball”s top level, they actually won the 1989 Division II National Championship. However, the first 14 seasons as a DI program had all ended the same for the Mustangs-without an NCAA Tournament
It’s not like Cal Poly plays in a cream puff conference. The Big West includes such teams as perrenial College World Series participant Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine (2007 CWS) and Long Beach State. But competition like that can be both a blessing and a curse- good competition means a good strength of schedule and RPI numbers, but too many fourth-place conference finishes can be just too much to overcome when the field of 64 is ultimately announced.
Larry Lee’s squad had dipped even lower when they finished 2008 with a 24-32 overall record and a 7th place finish in the nine-team Big West conference standings. 2009 was going to be different though.
The season started with a bang when Cal Poly hosted and won two out of three games from 2008 CWS team Rice. The Mustangs dropped the opener 10-7, but they managed to score 7 runs in just 4 2/3 against the 3rd ranked Owls’ Ryan Berry, who finished the season with 7-2 record and 2.42 ERA with 4 complete games.
Cal Poly jumped out to a 6-0 lead in game two en-route to a 10-3 romp, and then rallied from an early 6-2 deficit to win the series finale 7-6. J.J. Thompson doubled home Bobby Crocker with one out in the bottom of the 9th for the walk-off win. Thompson ended the season as one of seven Mustangs to collect at least 41 RBIs.
The series win over one of the top teams of the current decade helped fuel Cal Poly’s 17-4 start to the season. It was the program’s best start since the 1997 team that opened with an 18-2 mark, but even the ’97 team didn’t get to the postseason.
Larry Lee’s Mustangs would go on to win 11 of 14 series during the ’09 regular season. They took both games they played from defending National Champion Fresno State, and on March 31 they posted their first win over USC in 34
By season’s end Cal Poly led the Big West in nearly every offensive category including: batting average (.324), slugging percentage (.495), on-base percentage (.409), runs (468), hits (655), RBI (420), home runs (61), and total bases (1,001). Mustang pitchers also led the conference in strikeouts (391) and fewest walks allowed (235).
Adam Buschini led the Mustangs with a .422 batting average, 11 home runs, 61 RBIs, and a 1.091 OPS. Reliever Eric Massingham led a solid pitching staff with 7-3 record with a 3.07 ERA and 6 saves in 25 relief appearances. Both were drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies last June.
Despite the statistical success Cal Poly finished third in the Big West regular season standings. With a 37-19 overall record and no postseason conference tournament to try to earn an automatic NCAA bid, Lee’s team would have to wait to see if its name was called on selection Monday. The Mustangs did earn their first berth when they were announced as the #3 seed in the Tempe Regional which also featured #1 Arizona State, #2 Oral Roberts and #4 Kent State.
The Mustangs lost their two NCAA games to Oral Roberts and Kent State, while Arizona State advanced all the way to the College World Series.
Press play to listen to a podcast interview with Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee. The interview was recorded just after the Mustangs learned of their first NCAA bid.
Other Top Moments Of 2009