SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (21-26, 9-6 Big West), which suffered its first Big West series loss of the year last weekend but still has won 13 of its last 23 games after an 8-16 start to the 2017 season, plays six of its last nine games, all Big West contests, at home, beginning with CSUN (24-25, 10-8 Big West) inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800) in a matchup of the third-place and fourth-place teams in the conference.
First pitches for the three-game series are set for 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 with Chris Sylvester providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
Despite having 25 freshmen and sophomores on the roster a year ago, including as many as six true freshmen and a community college transfer in the starting lineup, Cal Poly posted a 32-25 mark in 2016, won nine of 15 weekend series, including victories over No. 14 UCLA and No. 19 Michigan and a sweep against College World Series participant UC Santa Barbara.
Eight position players who started at least 27 games a year ago are on the 2017 roster and the pitching rotation features all four returning starters off the 2016 squad, including weekend starters Erich Uelmen (5-3, 3.68 ERA), Kyle Smith (6-6, 3.64 ERA) and Jarred Zill (4-3, 2.79 ERA). Sophomore right-hander Cam Schneider also returned after starting seven games a year ago.
After winning just twice during a season-opening 11-game road trip, Cal Poly posted a 6-6 mark in a 12-game home stand in March. Since the start of Big West play on the final day of March, the Mustangs have hit .305, have outscored the opposition 125-92, have compiled a 3.42 ERA and 13-10 record and own a .975 fielding percentage with 22 errors in the 23 games.
Those numbers are in sharp contrast to the .253 average, 42 errors and 121 runs surrendered en route to an 8-16 record in the first 24 games of the season.
Last week, the Mustangs defeated Pepperdine 5-3 in a midweek contest, then dropped two of three Big West games at Long Beach State over the weekend. Cal Poly won the middle game 6-3, sandwiched by three-run losses -- 3-0 on Friday night and 5-2 on Sunday afternoon. The Mustangs hit just .230 in the series, compiled a 3.60 staff ERA and did not steal a base. Outfielder Kevin Morgan went 4-for-8 with a double while center fielder Alex McKenna was 5-for-14, also with a double. In a rematch at Pepperdine on Tuesday, the Waves earned a 6-1 victory.
CSUN jumped to a 12-7 start with series wins over Vanderbilt and Purdue before dropping four-game series against Saint Mary's and Washington State. The Matadors opened Big West play with a series loss at UC Davis but swept UC Riverside and earned 2-1 series wins against UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine to climb into fourth place. CSUN won the rubber game against the Anteaters 2-1 as Samuel Myers struck out eight over eight innings, allowing one run and four hits. It was the Matadors' first series win at UC Irvine since 2003.
On Tuesday, CSUN defeated CSU Bakersfield 3-2 in 10 innings thanks to a pinch-hit walkoff single by Riley Conlon. The Matadors scored in the bottom of the ninth on an infield error to send the game into overtime.
CSUN has 16 returning lettermen -- six position starters and seven pitchers -- off last year's 33-22 squad which finished tied for seventh place in the Big West at 11-13. Among the returnees are shortstop Fred Smith (.314, 75 hits, 10 doubles, 19 RBI, eight steals in 2016), outfielder Justin Toerner (.266, 10 doubles, five triples, 24 RBI) and catcher Dylan Alexander (.267, 11 RBI).
CSUN's pitching staff is anchored by right-handers Connor O'Neil (5-5, 3.07 ERA, 10 saves in 2016), Andrew Weston (7-5, 3.19 ERA) and Myers (3-0, 2.00 ERA, one save).
So far this season, third baseman Nolan Bumstead leads the Matadors at the plate with a .294 average, seven doubles, and 23 RBI, followed by left fielder Kevin Riley (.291, 11 doubles, eight home runs, 32 RBI), second baseman Alvaro Rubalcaba (.286, eight doubles, 12 RBI, 15 steals) and center fielder Justin Toerner (.286, eight doubles, 12 RBI). On the mound, Tei Vanderford is 5-4 with a 4.03 ERA as the Friday night starter, with Saturday starter Weston sporting a 5-2 mark and 4.07 ERA and Myers 4-5 and a 4.03 ERA. Closer O'Neil is 5-3 with a 2.72 ERA and seven saves.
Coached by Greg Moore (fourth season, 108-109, San Francisco '99), CSUN has a .255 team batting average through 49 games. The Matadors have stolen 48 of 64 bases, sports a 5.15 staff ERA and has compiled a .965 fielding percentage with 66 errors in 49 games.
CSUN claimed its lone Big West title in 2002, and captured the Western Athletic Conference crown in 1996, both under Mike Batesole, now head coach at Fresno State. CSUN captured NCAA Division II national titles in 1970 and 1984 under Bob Hiegert.
Moore was associate head coach for three seasons at San Francisco, where he oversaw pitching, admissions, community service and summer placement. Moore began his collegiate coaching career at USF in 2002 as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Dons. He served in that capacity until 2009, when he took a position as the pitching coach at Washington for one season before heading back to his alma mater.
Moore played collegiate baseball for San Francisco and was named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic Team in 2001. As a player, he won the team's "Most Inspirational" award in back-to-back seasons and the award now bears his name. Moore earned his bachelor's degree in education and completed his master's in sports and fitness management at San Francisco in 2001.
Former Matadors who played in the Major Leagues include Jason Thompson, Adam Kennedy, Robert Fick, Lyman Bostock and Kameron Loe.
Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge have met 223 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1959. The Matadors hold a 121-102 advantage after sweeping the Mustangs by scores of 7-2, 5-3 and 2-1 a year ago at Matador Field. Cal Poly swept CSUN in 2013 at Baggett Stadium as well as three years ago at Matador Field to clinch the Big West title and won two of three games at Baggett Stadium in 2015. Cal Poly is 37-30 against CSUN since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 30-17 against CSUN while Greg Moore is 4-5 against Cal Poly.
Cal Poly's 2017 roster is led by seven returning position starters and eight pitchers who tossed 20 or more innings in 2016.
Outfielder Josh George (.306, seven doubles, 16 RBI in 2016) and catcher Nick Meyer (.301, seven doubles, 21 RBI) both hit above the .300 mark a year ago. Meyer was a second-team All-Big West selection and also was named Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year after picking off a Big West-leading 10 runners and threw out 22 would-be base stealers, second in the conference.
Middle infielder Kyle Marinconz (.284, 15 doubles, 25 RBI), an All-Big West honorable mention, joined Meyer on Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team. Third baseman Michael Sanderson (.296, 12 doubles, 33 RBI), a second-team All-Big West selection in 2016, outfielder Kevin Morgan (.269, 15 RBI), outfielder Alex McKenna (.261, six home runs, 27 RBI) and shortstop Brett Binning (.225) also return.
A pair of true freshmen -- infielder Bradlee Beesley (.407, 19 RBI at San Leandro High School) and outfielder/designated hitter Scott Ogrin (.412, 18 RBI at Valencia High School) -- were in the starting lineup on Opening Day along with community college transfer Elijah Skipps (Cypress College) at first base.
Cal Poly's top hitter through 47 games is McKenna with a .362 mark, including 11 doubles, five home runs and 28 RBI with 25 multiple-hit games. He is 42-for-102 (.412) over his last 22 games with 15 multiple-hit contests. Sanderson is hitting .335 with 10 doubles, a triple, a pair of home runs and 23 RBI, going 47-for-133 (.353) over his last 33 games.
Beesley is hitting .333 with 13 doubles and three triples, going 57-for-155 (.368) since and including the middle game of the San Diego State series when he produced his first four-hit game. He was hitting .160 prior to that contest March 4. Marinconz has lifted his average 17 points over the last 11 games to .251 by going 13-for-42 (.310) while George owns a .253 mark with nine doubles and 22 RBI.
Uelmen, who has struck out 74 batters over 74 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 2-8 because in an early-season stretch of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates and Cal Poly also was shut out in his last start Friday at Long Beach State. Eight weeks ago against Wichita State, he pitched seven strong innings with 10 strikeouts but was not involved in the 13-inning decision, a 5-4 Mustang win. He gave up two earned runs and four hits over six innings in a 3-2 loss to Nebraska seven weeks ago and one earned run and seven hits over six frames in a non-decision 10-inning 3-2 win at UC Irvine six weeks ago. Uelmen's first win was in the season opener at Cal on Feb. 18 and he finally notched win No. 2 four weeks ago at UC Davis, giving up one run and five hits over six innings.
Howard (5-1, 2.27 ERA, second-best in the Big West) picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against Wichita State eight weeks ago, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts, and earned his second win in the Hawai'i series, his third against Cal State Fullerton, his fourth at UCLA and his fifth last week at Long Beach State. Sophomore righty Bobby Ay (1-5, 5.08 ERA) earned his first win April 9 against Hawai'i, pitching into the eighth inning for the first time and allowing a run and five hits with six strikeouts.
A year ago Cal Poly earned its 14th winning season since 2000 and reached the 30-win mark for the 11th time this century. The Mustangs were 23-8 at home last season and have won 148 of their last 200 home games for a winning percentage of 74 percent. Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, has finished fourth or higher in the Big West 12 times in its last 14 seasons, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes after capturing its first Big West championship in 2014.
Lee (476-362-2) earned his 400th win March 7, 2015, at Pacific and surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series in 2011. Lee's previous 14 clubs at Cal Poly have averaged 32.5 wins per season. Lee earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and, in his 15th season at Cal Poly, notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13 against Gonzaga.
Cal Poly has played seven games against Pac-12 teams this season, winning one of three in the season-opening series at Cal, falling at Stanford on Feb. 23 and losing two of three contests at UCLA. The schedule also featured 14 games against 2016 NCAA regional qualifiers, a 12-game home stand in March and 28 contests in all inside Baggett Stadium. All 56 Mustang games this spring will be played in the Golden State.
Next week, Cal Poly visits UC Santa Barbara for a Big West series Friday through Sunday. The Mustangs wrap up the 2017 season in two weeks by hosting UC Riverside.