SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (4-0), ranked No. 22 in the Baseball America poll and No. 26 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper this week following a season-opening series sweep against 2013 NCAA Super Regional qualifier Kansas State, plays the first of three consecutive series away from home this weekend, visiting defending national champion and No. 12 UCLA (3-1) at Jackie Robinson Stadium (cap.: 1,820).
Game times are 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. All three contests will be aired live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Eric Burdick calling the play-by-play. Live stats as well as an audio stream will be available at www.GoPoly.com.
Junior southpaw Matt Imhof set the tone for the Kansas State series by striking out a career-high 14 batters in seven innings, tying the school Division I record, in a 3-0 Mustang victory Friday. Nick Torres and Jordan Ellis combined for seven hits and freshman right-hander Slater Lee tossed 6 1/3 solid innings in a 5-2 triumph Saturday and Cal Poly erupted for 14 hits, including a three-run home run by Torres and three hits by Brian Mundell, in Sunday's 10-1 romp.
Five Mustang pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts, including nine by freshman starter Justin Calomeni in five-plus innings, and Torres knocked in three runs with a two-run double and a sacrifice fly in Tuesday's 8-0 victory at Santa Clara.
Off to a 4-0 start for the second straight year, Cal Poly scored 18 runs on 33 hits for a .324 team batting average in the Kansas State series while the pitching staff held the Wildcats to just three runs and 11 hits with 33 strikeouts for a 1.00 ERA. In four games this season, the Mustangs hit .319 and have outscored the opposition 26-3 while the pitching staff has compiled an 0.75 ERA with 48 strikeouts and nine walks in 36 innings.
UCLA won two of three games in its season-opening series against Portland, bouncing back from a 1-0 loss Friday with 12-1 and 4-3 victories. On Tuesday, the Bruins scored five times in the eighth inning to pull away from Cal State Northridge, winning 7-1.
Cal Poly, 40-19 a year ago for its first 40-win season in Division I and third overall, returns 19 letter winners, including eight position starters and seven pitchers, off its 2013 squad which swept five series and won 10 of 15 weekend series. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs went 1-2 in the Los Angeles Regional hosted by UCLA, falling to the Bruins 6-4 on the second day. UCLA, which trailed 4-0 before scoring four runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to turn the game around, went 10-0 in postseason play en route to its first national title.
Cal Poly won its first seven games of the 2013 season and sprinted to a 13-1 start. Never losing more than three games in a row, Cal Poly steadily climbed 17 games over the .500 mark during the next seven weeks of play. A late-season surge with 11 wins in their last 14 games enabled the Mustangs to post their third 40-win season in school history, falling one victory shy of the record of 41 wins in both 1977 and 1992. The Mustangs finished second in the Big West for the second straight year.
Topping Cal Poly's list of returnees are senior third baseman Jimmy Allen (.299, 39 RBI) and junior relief pitcher Reed Reilly (2.29 ERA, 14 saves), both of whom were drafted last June but chose to return to Cal Poly for another season.
Also returning are outfielders Nick Torres (.333, seven home runs, 49 RBI) and Jordan Ellis (.323, 18 RBI), infielders Tim Wise, Peter Van Gansen and John Schuknecht, catcher Chris Hoo and designated hitter Brian Mundell (.265, 11 home runs, 42 RBI).
Joining Reilly on the pitching staff are starters Matt Imhof (7-3, 2.74 ERA), Casey Bloomquist (6-2, 5.02 ERA) and Bryan Granger (5-4, 5.37 ERA) and relievers Taylor Chris (1-0, 2.55 ERA) and Danny Zandona (2-1, 4.50 ERA), among others.
UCLA, 49-17 a year ago and 21-9 for third place in the Pac-12 Conference, returns 22 letter winners, including six position starters and seven pitchers. Top returnees include first baseman Pat Gallagher (.274, 20 RBI in 2013) and center fielder Brian Carroll (.258, 20 RBI) along with pitchers Grant Watson (9-3, 3.01 ERA), James Kaprielian (0-0, 1.55 ERA), Cody Poteet (4-6, 4.84 ERA) and closer David Berg (7-0, 0.92 ERA, 24 saves).
Veteran outfielder Eric Filia (.281, 33 RBI) and third baseman Kevin Kramer (.278, 42 RBI) have suffered season-ending shoulder injuries while second baseman Kevin Williams (.227) will miss at least the first month of the season with a shoulder injury as well.
Kaprielian, a right-hander, is expected to start Friday's game for the Bruins, followed by Watson, a southpaw, and righty Poteet. Cal Poly will answer with junior southpaw Matt Imhof, freshman right-hander Slater Lee and sophomore righty Casey Bloomquist. The Mustang trio combined to allow two runs and seven hits over 18 1/3 innings with five walks and 23 strikeouts against Kansas State.
Coached by John Savage (10th season at UCLA, 327-225, Nevada '91), UCLA has a .303 team batting average through four games, led by shortstop Trent Chatterton (.389, six RBI), catcher Shane Zeile (.385) and right fielder Christoph Bono (.357, five RBI). The Bruins sport a 0.95 staff ERA and .981 fielding percentage with three errors in four games.
UCLA holds a 20-7 advantage in its series against Cal Poly following last year's victory in the Los Angeles Regional. The Mustangs and Bruins split a doubleheader in 2011 at Baggett Stadium in a series shortened by rain and Cal Poly was swept by UCLA in a 2010 series at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
UCLA has made five trips to the College World Series and 19 NCAA regional appearances. The Bruins have claimed 10 conference titles, the last in 2012. Savage was head coach at UC Irvine for three seasons, compiling an 88-84-1 mark from 2002-04, before taking over at UCLA.
Cal Poly's top hitters after four games are junior right fielder Nick Torres (8-for-16, .500, six RBI), junior center fielder Jordan Ellis (7-for-16, .438) and sophomore designated hitter Brian Mundell (5-for-12, .417, three RBI). Both senior third baseman Jimmy Allen (5-for-15, six RBI) and senior catcher Chris Hoo (4-for-12) check in with .333 marks.
A year ago, Cal Poly surpassed the 30-win mark for the ninth time in the last 14 years and clinched its 11th winning season since 2000 by sweeping UC Riverside in early May. The Mustangs moved 21 games above the .500 mark for the first time in their 19-year Division I history by sweeping Cal State Northridge on May 17-19. Cal Poly was 13-1 on the year after sweeping a doubleheader at Kansas State by 13-10 and 6-2 scores in early March.
Lee, in his 12th season with the Mustangs, has guided Cal Poly to five 3-0 starts with season-opening series sweeps over San Diego in 2005, Fresno State in 2006, Oklahoma State in 2012, San Francisco last year and Kansas State this season. The Mustangs have finished in the upper half of the conference standings 10 times in the last 12 years.
Lee (353-272-2) earned his 300th win on May 5, 2012, in a 12-7 decision at UC Davis. Lee surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series a week earlier. 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).
After opening the season at home with three games against Kansas State, the Mustangs on Tuesday began a stretch of playing 11 of their next 12 games on the road. Next week, Cal Poly plays Tuesday at San Jose State and returns to the Southland on Friday through Sunday to face 12-time NCAA champion Southern Cal at Dedeaux Field.