May 30, 2009

Courtesy: gopoly.com

TEMPE, Arizona - Mid-American Conference tournament champion Kent State built a 10-2 lead, then withstood a furious Cal Poly ninth-inning rally for a 10-9 baseball victory in an elimination game of the NCAA Division I Tempe Regional on Saturday at Arizona State's Packard Stadium.

Coach Larry Lee's 26th-ranked Mustangs scored seven runs on eight hits in the ninth and had the tying runner at third base and the go-ahead runner at second before David Starn, the seventh Kent State pitcher of the game, struck out sophomore left fielder D.J. Gentile to end the game.

Cal Poly finishes 0-2 in its first NCAA Division I regional appearance - the Mustangs made six trips to the Division II regionals before elevating the athletics program to Division I in July 1994 - and wraps up the 2009 season with a 37-21 record.

Kent State, playing Cal Poly in baseball for the first time, takes a 43-16 mark into another elimination game Sunday afternoon.

"We didn't play up to our abilities," said seventh-year Mustang head coach Larry Lee. "A handful of our players played pretty well, but other struggled.

"It was a good experience for all of our players and, overall, a good season," Lee added. "You're always going to be upset when you lose the last game of the season, and that's what happens in the playoffs to everyone but the champion."

Mustang junior second baseman Adam Buschini finished the year with a .422 batting average after going 2-for-4 Saturday. He extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a single down the left-field line in the ninth, then later in the inning knocked in two runs with another single inside third base and down the line.

That .422 mark is a school Division I record, exceeding the .412 average compiled by Scott Kidd in 1997. The hitting streak is the third-longest of the season for the Mustangs, who had six players with hitting streaks of 10 or more games this year.

Senior center fielder Ryan Lee went 3-for-6 with one RBI Saturday and broke the school's all-time single-season mark for at-bats in a season with 265. Kidd had 255 in 1997.

Freshman right fielder Bobby Crocker had a 3-for-4 day at the plate with one RBI and two runs scored, lifting his batting average to a solid .323 in his first season as a Mustang.

In all, Cal Poly had 16 hits, including two each by junior left fielder Adam Melker, junior designated hitter Luke Yoder and junior catcher Ross Brayton, who capped his first Mustang campaign with a .393 average.

"We put up a lot of big numbers all season long," said Lee. "We had our opportunities early to cash in, but twice we hit into double plays with the bases loaded. We battled just like we have all year, but it's a different animal in the playoffs."

Kent State shortstop Chris Tremblay and right fielder Jason Patton each had three hits. Center fielder Jared Humphreys added two hits and three RBI while third baseman Travis Shaw hit the game's only home run, a two-run shot in the seventh inning that capped a four-run rally and gave the Golden Flashes a 9-1 advantage.

Each team scored a run in the eighth before Cal Poly mounted its last-chance rally in the ninth.

The Mustangs sent 12 batters to plate, producing seven runs on eight hits. Junior shortstop Kyle Smith singled home the first run, Yoder tripled down the left-field line to drive in two and Crocker singled up the middle for an RBI as Cal Poly pulled to within 10-6.

The Mustangs loaded the bases with one out, bringing the potential game-tying run to the plate. Lee responded with a single to right for one RBI and Kent State summoned Starn to the mound.

Melker's fly ball to center was too shallow to score a run, but Buschini kept the rally going with a two-run single into the left-field corner, making it 10-9. Lee and Buschini pulled off a double-steal to put two runners in scoring position, but on a 2-2 pitch,Gentile was called out on strikes to end the game.

"Even though it didn't go the way we wanted, it's still a big step for our program," said junior right-hander DJ Mauldin. "The ninth-inning rally is a reflection of how hard we fought all year long."

Mauldin (5-5) allowed six runs, only three earned, and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings with two walks and one strikeout. He threw 104 pitches in 102-degree heat. Seniors Eric Massingham and Jared Eskew also pitched in what turned out to be their final game as Mustangs.