Cal Poly Baseball Not Selected for 2012 NCAA Tournament
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- For the first time in 26 years, the Big West Conference will send just one representative to the NCAA baseball regionals.
Conference champion Cal State Fullerton will make its 21st consecutive trip to a regional while Cal Poly, despite finishing alone in second place, winner of 14 of its last 17 games and the team with the most wins in the Big West during the regular season with 36, was not extended an at-large invitation.
UC Santa Barbara was the lone Big West playoff team in 1986 and the conference has sent at least two teams -- and sometimes as many as four -- to an NCAA regional every year since.
Cal Poly finished second for the second time in its 16 years as a member of the Big West, has finished in the upper half of the conference standings nine times in the last 11 years and has posted its eighth winning record since 2000.
But the Mustangs were hurt by several factors. Their strength of schedule ranged from 53 by BoydsWorld.com to 140 by WarrenNolan.com, Cal Poly's record against teams with RPIs in the top 50 was 2-3, the Mustangs' RPI is in the mid-60s and Cal Poly lost twice to Minnesota (134), UC Davis (170), Cal State Northridge (162) and Santa Clara (178), teams with RPIs well over 100.
"Overall, it was a great season," said 10th-year Mustang head coach Larry Lee. "It definitely was good enough to warrant a regional berth, but it's tough to get in from the West when regional bids weigh so much on the RPI which doesn't work well for the West. It's just a frustrating dilemma."
Cal Poly's only regional appearance in Division I was in 2009 at Arizona State. The Mustangs, 36-20 this season, also were 36-20 in 2005 and did not get a bid.
"There were a couple conference games we didn't close out," said Lee. "In particular, if we close out the Sunday game at Cal State Fullerton, we would be conference champs today."
The Mustangs scored twice in the top of the ninth inning for a 4-3 lead, but surrendered a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the winning run in the 10th in a 5-4 loss to the Titans on April 22.
Cal State Fullerton finished one game ahead of the Mustangs at 17-7. Cal Poly was 16-8 following back-to-back sweeps against UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside to close out the regular season. Third-place Long Beach State was 15-9.
"The path we need to take to get into a regional is to put ourselves in position to win the Big West," said Lee, "but when you finish the way we did and are second place, one game out of first, in one of the better baseball conferences in the country, it's a tough pill to swallow.
"Nevertheless, it doesn't take away from how our players performed throughout the year and played their best baseball of the season toward the end," Lee added.
Cal Poly finished the year with a seven-game winning streak, a 9-1 mark in its last 10 games and finished first in the Big West in hitting (.297) and fielding (.978) along with the most wins of any team in the conference (36).
The Mustangs played three-game non-conference series with out-of-region foes Oklahoma State and Minnesota, teams which have combined for 68 NCAA regional appearances, including 24 berths in the College World Series. But neither team made the postseason this year.
"Our strength of schedule was low this year," said Lee. "We try to set the best possible non-conference schedule a couple years in advance, but you never know how those teams will perform when you play them.
And, on the other hand, "you can have a great strength of schedule but you still have to win ball games," Lee added. "Where we are located, however, it is difficult to get teams willing to play out here and, because of financial issues, we can only fly a couple times a year."
In 2005, when Cal Poly also was denied a bid to the NCAA regionals despite a 36-20 record and second-place Big West finish, the Mustangs' RPI was 57 and its strength of schedule was low because, even though the Mustangs were 9-3 against perennial regional powers UCLA, San Diego, Washington and Fresno State, none made the regionals.
Only four of Cal Poly's 21 opponents this season made the regional field. The Mustangs were 1-2 against Cal State Fullerton, 1-0 against Pepperdine, 0-1 against San Diego and 0-2 against Fresno State.
Cal Poly jumped to a 7-1 start in the first two weeks of the season and ended the 2012 campaign winning 14 of its final 17 contests over a five-week period. In between, the Mustangs were under the .500 mark at 15-16.
Cal Poly was among the final 12 teams being considered for the last at-large berth. Committee chair Kyle Kandaller said in a teleconference call following the NCAA Selection Show aired on ESPNU that the final five teams left out of the field were Texas, Gonzaga, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Utah Valley. Maryland, with an RPI of 30, also was denied a playoff spot.
The national top eight seeds are Florida (42-18), UCLA (42-14), Florida St. (43-15), Baylor (44-14), Oregon (42-17), North Carolina (44-14), LSU (43-16) and South Carolina (40-17).
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) led all conferences in the number of teams in the championship field with eight, while the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has seven institutions. The Pacific-12 had five and the Big 12 and Conference USA each has four selected.
Making the tournament for the first time are Dayton of the Atlantic 10 Conference and Samford of the Southern Conference. Overall, 37 of the 64 teams were in the field last year.
Miami (Florida) is in the field for the 40th consecutive year, extending its own record.
Cal State Fullerton (35-19) will play in the Eugene Regional against Indiana State on Friday.