CAL POLY | PEPPERDINE | BIG WEST
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SCHUKNECHT EARNS BIG WEST HONOR
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (10-2, 0-0 Big West), off to a 10-2 start for the second time in three years and owner of a five-game winning streak, hits the road for the first time Tuesday, visiting West Coast Conference member Pepperdine (3-8, 0-0 West Coast) for a single game at Eddy D. Field Stadium (cap.: 1,800).
First pitch is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be aired live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Eric Burdick 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 returned 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.
Despite all the youth, Cal Poly swept Pacific three weeks ago, split four games against a pair of nationally ranked teams -- No. 19 Michigan and No. 14 UCLA -- defeated Pepperdine 6-5 on Kevin Morgan's ninth-inning one-out single to right field, scoring Kyle Marinconz from second base, and swept San Francisco over the weekend by scores of 2-1, 10-5 and 7-6.
Pepperdine opened its season by winning two of three games against Oakland, then dropped a 3-0 decision to CSUN and lost two of three games to No. 4 Texas A&M. Last week, the Waves fell to Cal Poly 6-5 and lost all three games at Tulane by 11-0, 15-0 and 4-3 decisions. The losses to Cal Poly and in the finale at Tulane were decided in the bottom of the ninth inning.
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.
Pepperdine, a regional qualifier for the 28th time last year and 1992 College World Series champion, has a new head coach as Steve Rodriguez moved on to Baylor last summer after 13 seasons at the helm of the Waves. Rick Hirtensteiner, a four-year standout at Pepperdine who earned All-American honors as a senior in 1989, is in his 18th season as a member of the Waves' coaching staff and his first as head coach.
Pepperdine returned 22 players, including seven position starters and eight pitchers, off a team which finished 32-29 a year ago and second in the West Coast Conference with a 17-10 mark. The Waves, who won the West Coast Conference postseason tournament in Stockton and went 2-2 in the Fullerton Regional, have appeared in one Super Regional (Fort Worth in 2014) and two College World Series.
Topping the list of returning veterans are outfielder Brandon Caruso (.309, 26 RBI in 2015), catcher Aaron Barnett (.303, 27 RBI) and outfielder Matt Gelalich (.289, 23 RBI, seven steals). The pitching staff is paced by Ryan Wilson (8-3, 3.78 ERA in 2015) and A.J. Puckett (7-5, 4.35 ERA).
Through 11 games this season, Pepperdine has a .206 team batting average, led by Gelalich (.364), left fielder Matthew Kanfer (.316, three RBI), shortstop Manny Jefferson (.289, three home runs, eight RBI) and third baseman Nick Costello (.273). The Waves have stolen two of three bases and sport a 5.91 staff ERA and .980 fielding percentage with eight errors in 11 games.
Cal Poly and Pepperdine have met 59 times in baseball since the series began in 1947. The Waves hold a 35-24 advantage. The two teams split a pair of midweek games in 2014 and 2015. Pepperdine also earned 2-1 and 10-6 wins over the Mustangs in the 2014 San Luis Obispo Regional. Cal Poly is 14-20 against Pepperdine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
Larry Lee is 11-13 against his alma mater while Rick Hirtensteiner is 0-1 against Cal Poly.
In last year's meeting April 8, 2015 in Baggett Stadium, Cal Poly won 9-1 as then-freshman right-hander Jarred Zill earned his first collegiate victory and teamed with three relievers on a four-hitter. Zill allowed one run and two hits with six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
Zill (1-0, 1.12 ERA), who started last Tuesday against the Waves, allowing one run and four hits over five innings with eight strikeouts, will start Tuesday's game, facing Pepperdine freshman southpaw Easton Lucas (0-1, 2.79 ERA).
Cal Poly's 2016 roster is led by catcher/first baseman Brett Barbier (.253, nine doubles, four triples, three home runs, 34 RBI in 2015) and outfielder John Schuknecht (.237, six home runs, 24 RBI). The Mustangs' lineup in the Pacific series included 11 freshmen (nine true freshmen and a pair of redshirts) as well as three community college transfers. Five of the freshmen were pitchers while the other six frosh and all three transfers were position players.
The starters in a Cal Poly uniform for the first time in the Pacific series were Michael Sanderson (Feather River College) at third base, Kyle Marinconz (Valley Christian High School of San Jose) at second base, Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach High School) at first base, Alex McKenna (Alemany High School) in center field, Nick Meyer (Santa Margarita Catholic High School) behind the plate and Jake Mavropoulos (Oxnard College) as designated hitter along with pitcher Cam Schneider (El Toro High School).
In addition to Schneider, Cal Poly's pitching staff is led by sophomore southpaw Kyle Smith (5-7, 3.95 ERA in 2015), sophomore righty Erich Uelmen (0-1, 7.08 ERA) and junior right-hander Slater Lee (1-1, 6.27 ERA). Also challenging for a spot in the starting rotation is junior right-hander Justin Calomeni (1-3, 5.00 ERA), who earned two wins and a save, all in relief, in his first week of action last week following his recovery from a knee injury.
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) and redshirt freshman Austin Dondanville.
Through 12 games, Barbier (pictured above) is Cal Poly's top hitter with a .432 average and seven RBI, followed by McKenna (.372, two home runs, nine RBI), the Big West Field Player of the Week following the Pacific series, Marinconz (.341, four RBI) and left fielder Josh George (.340, eight RBI).
Cal Poly owns a .300 team batting average, has stolen five of 10 bases, sports a .961 fielding percentage with 19 errors in 12 games and has compiled a 3.88 staff ERA.
Cal Poly has produced 12 winning seasons since 2000. The Mustangs were 17-11 at home last season and have won 123 of their last 160 home games for a winning percentage of 76.9 percent. Cal Poly won each of its four Big West series at home in 2015, 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 (431-311-2), 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 10-game road trip by traveling to Phoenix for a three-game weekend set against Grand Canyon.
Cal Poly to Visit Pepperdine on Tuesday for First Road Game of Season
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