Despite No Postseason, Plenty of Positives to 2012 Baseball Season
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- A three-week stretch in which Cal Poly held late leads or were tied late in five games and couldn't hold on ultimately proved costly in the Mustangs' bid for a second NCAA regional playoff berth.
Nevertheless, there are numerous positives to glean from their 2012 baseball season, such as a seven-game winning streak, a 9-1 mark in their last 10 games and a 14-3 record to close out the campaign and a second-place finish in the highly competitive Big West Conference.
"Overall, it was a great season with a lot of individual and team accomplishments," said Larry Lee, who earned his 300th Cal Poly victory in his 10th year at the helm. "From a team standpoint, we led the Big West by a large margin in almost all important offensive categories, including batting average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
"We played great defensively with 46 errors in 56 games, good for 15th in the country out of 297 teams, and pitching-wise had another solid year and back-to-back solid pitching performances out of our staff at a very offensive ballpark," Lee added.
Cal Poly's 3.48 staff ERA is a school Division I record, surpassing last year's mark of 3.60 and, at the plate, the Mustangs finished with a .297 average, hitting .337 in their final 16 games. The school-record .978 field percentage included 22 errorless games.
Cal Poly opened the year with a 7-1 start and wrapped up the campaign with 14 wins in 17 games. In between, however, the Mustangs played under .500 ball at 15-16 and surrendered the lead late in games against Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State and UC Davis.
"We usually go through a bump in the road during a 56-game schedule and this year was no different," said Lee. "It's probably a combination of tough non-conference games on the road as well as playing in a difficult conference where it's hard to win series on the road.
"We also went through a lull swinging the bat as well as having a number of games where we couldn't close the door late, including five in a three-week stretch," Lee added.
The Mustangs scored three times in the top of the ninth for a 5-4 lead over the Matadors, but lost the game in 11 innings, 6-5. After scoring twice in the top of the ninth for a 4-3 lead against the Titans, Cal Poly surrendered a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and eventually fell 5-4 in 10 innings.
Cal Poly let a 3-1 lead get away as Fresno State scored four times in the ninth inning for a 5-3 triumph and the Mustangs dropped two games at UC Davis when the Aggies scored tiebreaking runs in the eighth and 11th innings for a pair of 5-4 victories in early May.
Cal Poly swept six series, including the final two against UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside, won nine of 14 weekend series while also going 2-2 in the Aztec Invitational and finished second in the Big West for the second time. Ironically, Cal Poly also was 36-20 and finished tied for second in 2005 but again was denied an NCAA playoff bid.
Lee earned his 300th win as head coach of the Mustangs on May 5 in a 12-7 decision at UC Davis. Lee (309-252-2) surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series. Steve McFarland was 290-257 in 10 seasons (1984-93) at the helm of the Mustangs while Ritch Price was 217-228-1 in Cal Poly's first eight years of play in Division I (1995-2002).
Individual highlights this season include Big West Player of the Year honors for junior center fielder Mitch Haniger, joining six other Mustangs on the all-conference first team -- sophomore catcher Chris Hoo, sophomore third baseman Jimmy Allen, senior shortstop Mike Miller, sophomore designated hitter Tim Wise, junior starting pitcher Joey Wagman and redshirt freshman relief pitcher Reed Reilly.
Haniger led the Big West by a wide margin in home runs (13), RBI (64) and slugging percentage (.626) and also threw out nine runners trying to take extra bases. He is expected to be selected in the first three rounds of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft next week. Haniger is fourth all-time at Cal Poly in career home runs (26), tied for No. 3 in career doubles (47) and tied for No. 5 in career RBI (137).
Miller finished as Cal Poly's top hitter with a .354 average and also led the team in hits (87) and runs scored (56). He had a 14-game hitting streak and a stretch of 25 consecutive games in which he reached base safely. Miller hit .442 (34-for-77) in a 17-game stretch with 11 multiple-hit games late in the season.
Allen sported a .345 average with 20 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 44 RBI (second in the Big West). Allen closed out the season with a nine-game hitting streak and was 5-for-7 with 13 RBI with the bases loaded this season. He hit a home run in the 10th inning to beat Pepperdine 2-1 on May 1 and drove in the tying and go-ahead runs with a bases-loaded two-run single in the eighth inning May 20, capping Cal Poly's comeback from a 7-1 deficit in a 9-7 victory.
Wise closed out the year reaching base safely in 32 straight games and lifted his batting average 49 points to .308 by going 34-for-97 in the final seven weeks of the season. His first 25 hits of the season were singles and he finished with 10 doubles, one triple and three home runs.
All-Big West second-team honoree David Armendariz hit .312 and also finished strong, going 14-for-23 in the final two weeks with eight runs scored and 15 RBI to hike his average 39 points.
"Haniger had one of those monster years where he had a wide margin over anyone else in the Big West when it came to the power numbers," said Lee. "We also had great offensive years from Allen, Miller, Armendariz and Wise."
Southpaw Kyle Anderson (10-1) -- one of just three seniors on the team (Miller and catcher Jordan Hadlock are the others) -- and right-hander Wagman (9-3) combined for 19 wins while sophomore right-hander Chase Johnson earned eight saves. Reilly was 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA, pitching three or more innings seven times as a reliever.
"The future is bright," said Lee. "We traveled with 25 players this past weekend and 17 of those were freshmen or sophomores. We will have to replace Miller, Haniger and Anderson, but we feel that, with the development of our younger players, we hope to be right in the running again next year."
Cal Poly was ranked No. 22 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper after its 7-1 start and No. 27 in early April after sweeping UC Irvine. The Mustangs were 17-1 on Saturday, 6-1 in shutouts, 34-1 when leading after eight innings, 28-5 when outhitting their foes, 22-5 when making fewer errors than the opposition this season and were never swept.
Cal Poly has won at least 30 games eight times in the last 13 seasons, has posted its 10th winning season since 2000 and has finished in the upper half of the conference standings nine times in the last 11 years.
The Mustangs' 36 wins this year are the most in the Big West during the regular season, but for the first time since 1986, only one team will represent the conference in the NCAA regionals.