WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | PACIFIC | BIG WEST
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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (0-0, 0-0 Big West), coming off a break-even 27-27 campaign and fourth-place Big West Conference finish, opens the 2016 season facing a familiar foe, former Big West rival Pacific (0-0, 0-0 West Coast), for a four-game non-conference series inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800).
First pitches are set for 6 p.m. Friday, a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday and 1 o'clock on Sunday. All four games will be aired live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Dave Grant providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats as well as audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
Cal Poly returns 16 lettermen (two position starters) and eight pitchers (four with six or more starts in 2015), but more than two-thirds of the 34-man roster are freshmen or sophomores. The nine returning position players, starters and reserves, hit a combined .230 a year ago and, while eight of last year's 13 pitchers return, their win-loss record combined was 15-18 with an 8.70 ERA.
"We have a number of question marks throughout the team due to how young we are," admitted 14th-year Mustang head coach Larry Lee. "We will have to wait to see how they respond in order to be competitive at this level."
Cal Poly opened the 2015 season 1-6 and was eight games under the .500 mark before turning things around. The Mustangs hit .303 over their final 23 games, improved their defense by fielding at a .980 clip, won 17 of their final 26 games (including 13 of 15 at home) and made a run for the Big West title.
Cal Poly said good-bye to six seniors and also bid farewell to four juniors who were drafted and signed, leaving gaping holes to fill for the 2016 season.
Pacific is coming off a 14-37 campaign and will have a new head coach in the dugout in Mike Neu, the pitching coach at Cal the last four years. Neu replaced Ed Sprague, an Olympic gold medalist (1988) and 11-year Major League veteran who coached the Tigers for 12 seasons.
Pacific's roster includes five returning position starters and seven pitchers. Infielder Louis Mejia (.308, 23 RBI) and outfielder Gio Brusa (.291, four home runs, 13 RBI) head the list of returnees, along with pitchers Will Lydon (1-10, 5.93 ERA), Jake Jenkins (5-6, 6.06 ERA) and Vince Arobio (1-1, 3.30 ERA, eight saves), all right-handers.
Cal Poly's 2016 roster is led by catcher/first baseman Brett Barbier (.253, nine doubles, four triples, three home runs, 34 RBI) and outfielder John Schuknecht (.237, six home runs, 24 RBI). The Mustangs' starting lineup could include three freshmen in the infield and two of the three potential outfielders have just six combined starts in their careers.
"Our young players are going to be called upon to compete right away," Lee said. "Because of the lack of experience, collectively we will have to do a real good job of getting better in all facets of the game."
The potential freshman starters are Michael Sanderson (Feather River College) at either first or third base, Kyle Marinconz (Valley Christian High School of San Jose) at second base and Dylan Doherty (Foothill High School of Santa Ana) at shortstop. Barbier is also a candidate at first base and junior Alec Smith (.212) will start at either third base or shortstop.
Joining Schuknecht in the outfield are sophomore Josh George (.278, two starts in 2015) in left field and either freshman Alex McKenna (Alemany High School in West Hills) or sophomore Ben Polshuk (.105, four starts) in center field.
Barbier or freshman Nick Meyer (Santa Margarita Catholic High School) will start behind the plate. Top candidates for the designated hitter's role are junior Kevin Morgan (.188, seven starts in 2015) and junior Jake Mavropoulos (Oxnard College), who missed the 2015 season due to injury.
Cal Poly's pitching staff is paced by sophomore southpaw Kyle Smith (5-7, 3.95 ERA) (pictured above) and junior right-handers Justin Calomeni (1-3, 5.00 ERA) and Slater Lee (1-1, 6.27 ERA). Also challenging for spots in the starting rotation are sophomore Erich Uelmen (0-1, 7.08 ERA) and freshman Cam Schneider (El Toro High School), both righties.
Topping the list of relievers are freshman southpaws Thomas Triantos (Livermore High School) and Justin Bruihl (Casa Grande High School in Petaluma) along with sophomore right-hander Andrew Bernstein (3-3, 5.01 ERA).
The Tigers are in their third year of play in the West Coast Conference after being a member of the Big West Conference for 29 years. Pacific never claimed a Big West title and posted just seven winning seasons and three more .500 campaigns during their Big West Conference membership from 1985 through 2013.
Cal Poly and Pacific have met 78 times on the baseball field since the series began in 1946. The Mustangs hold a 46-32 advantage, beating the Tigers 27 of the last 35 times and 33 of 45, taking 15 straight series. Cal Poly won two of three games against the Tigers in a three-game series ending the 2013 regular season at Klein Family Field and also won two of three last year in Stockton.
Cal Poly is 37-20 against Pacific since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
Cal Poly has produced 12 winning seasons since 2000. The Mustangs were 17-11 at home last season and have won 113 of their last 148 home games for a winning percentage of 76.4 percent. Cal Poly won each of its four Big West series at home, compiling a 10-2 mark, but lost all four conference road series, two games to one, despite winning the opener each time.
Cal Poly has finished fourth or higher in the Big West 12 times in its last 14 seasons and has posted ten 30-victory campaigns since 2000. The Mustangs have produced 13 non-losing seasons in the last 16 years.
Lee (423-311-2), in his 14th season with the Mustangs, has guided Cal Poly to 11 finishes in the upper half of the Big West standings in the last 13 years. He 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.
Cal Poly continues its season-opening 12-game home stand with four more games next weekend. The Mustangs host UCLA for three games (Friday and Saturday nights, Sunday afternoon) and also will play Michigan for a single contest Saturday afternoon.
Cal Poly to Open 2016 Baseball Season Against Former Big West Rival Pacific
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WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | PACIFIC | BIG WEST