SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (1-6, 0-0 Big West), which won its season opener at Cal but has dropped six games since and has been held to just six runs over its last five contests, will play four more games on the road this week, starting with a single game Tuesday night at Santa Clara (1-5, 0-0 West Coast) and continuing with a three-game series Friday through Sunday at San Diego State (4-4, 0-0 Mountain West).
First pitch at Stephen Schott Stadium (cap.: 1,500) against the Broncos on Tuesday is set for 6 p.m. The game 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 a year ago, 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 returns after starting seven games a year ago.
The Mustangs have been struggling in all facets of the game. The pitching staff's ERA is 6.47 with opposing batters hitting a robust .313. Defensively, Cal Poly committed five errors in the middle game at Pacific, three more in the season opener against Cal and sports a .955 fielding percentage with 11 errors in seven games.
And the offense struggled mightily last week, hitting .187 in four games and scoring just six runs in the last five contests. During one stretch, Cal Poly failed to score in 25 consecutive innings, a school Division I record. Pacific blanked the Mustangs 2-0 on Friday and 16-0 on Saturday, marking just the fourth time in Cal Poly's 23-year Division I history that the Mustangs were shut out in back-to-back games.
Only two Mustangs are hitting above the .300 mark to date. Junior outfielder Josh George is off to an 8-for-23 start (.348) with five doubles while senior designated hitter Kevin Morgan sports a .353 average (six of 17).
Santa Clara is coming off a 23-29 campaign, including a 10-17 mark for ninth place in the West Coast Conference. The Broncos return 18 lettermen, including five of the 10 position starters and six pitchers. Sixth-year head coach Dan O'Brien has 15 newcomers on the squad this season.
Santa Clara's top three returnees this spring are left fielder Tyler Meditz (.284, five home runs, 26 RBI), right fielder Grant Meylan (.274, nine RBI) and third baseman John Cresto (.263, six home runs, 20 RBI). One starting pitcher returns, senior right-hander Steven Wilson (5-5, 3.92 ERA).
The Broncos are off to a 1-5 start, winning one of three games against Washington and dropping all three contests in their own Jack Gifford Invitational against Creighton, St. Louis and Michigan. Santa Clara is playing its first 11 games at home this season and sports a .225 team batting average with a 5.00 staff ERA and a .951 fielding percentage with 11 errors in six games.
Cresto currently sports a .476 average (10-for-21) with seven extra-base hits and five RBI. First baseman Jake Brodt is hitting .364 and Meditz .333.
Junior right-hander Michael Bono (0-0, 0.00 ERA), 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in eight appearances on the mound (three starts) a year ago, will start for the Broncos on Tuesday, facing Cal Poly sophomore right-hander Michael Clark (0-0, 9.00 ERA) (pictured above).
Coached by Dan O'Brien (sixth season, 116-159 at Santa Clara (21st season overall, 570-442-1), UC San Diego '95), Santa Clara has finished first in the West Coast Conference four times, the last in 2001. The Broncos are in their 135th year of competition in baseball, earning 2,241 wins with 12 NCAA regional appearances (the last in 1997) and one trip to the College World Series (1962).
O'Brien, who earned his 500th career win in 2014, was head coach at UC San Diego for 14 seasons, compiling a 454-283-1 record, before he was hired as Santa Clara's head coach on June 30, 2011, replacing Mark O'Brien. The Tritons qualified for the NCAA Division II West Regional five times in the last eight seasons under Dan O'Brien, making two trips to the Division II College World Series.
Cal Poly and Santa Clara have played 83 baseball games against each other since the series began in 1956. The Broncos hold a 43-40 advantage, including a 10-1 triumph and a 6-2 loss a year ago. The two teams also split a pair of midweek games in 2015. Cal Poly has won six of the last eight meetings.
Larry Lee is 17-15 against Santa Clara while O'Brien is 4-6 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) 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), 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 -- shortstop Bradlee Beesley (.407, 19 RBI at San Leandro High School) and outfielder 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.
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 134 of their last 176 home games for a winning percentage of 76.1 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 (456-342-2) 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.
In addition to the four games already played against Pac-12 schools, Cal Poly's 2017 schedule also includes a three-game series at UCLA in late April. The schedule features 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.
The Mustangs wrap up their season-opening 11-game road trip with a three-game series Friday through Sunday at San Diego State. Game times are 6, 1 and 1 p.m.