SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-9, 0-0 Big West), which snapped a six-game losing streak with an 11-7 victory at Santa Clara before closing out a season-opening 11-game road trip with three losses at San Diego State, plays its home opener and opens up a 12-game homestand Tuesday night by hosting CSU Bakersfield (8-3, 0-0 Western Athletic).
First pitch inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800) against the Roadrunners will be at 6 p.m. The non-conference contest between Central California rivals 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 returns after starting seven games a year ago.
Despite the presence of a large number of veterans, the Mustangs have struggled in all facets of the game. The pitching staff's ERA is 5.50 with opposing batters hitting a robust .286. Defensively, Cal Poly committed five errors in the middle game at Pacific, three more in two other contests and sports a .955 fielding percentage with 18 errors in 11 games.
And the offense has struggled as well as the Mustangs, hitting just .233, have been shut out four times. During one stretch, Cal Poly failed to score in 25 consecutive innings, a school Division I record. Pacific and San Diego State both blanked the Mustangs twice en route to series sweeps the last two weekends.
Cal Poly snapped a six-game losing streak last Tuesday with an 11-7 triumph at Santa Clara before closing out the season-opening 11-game road trip with 5-0, 6-4 and 2-0 losses at San Diego State. The Mustangs stranded 32 runners on the basepaths in the three contests, including 13 in the finale as they had at least two runners on base five times.
Only one Mustang is hitting above the .300 mark to date. Sophomore center fielder Alex McKenna is hitting .325 after going 5-for-13 in the San Diego State series. Senior outfielder Kevin Morgan stands at .290 while junior outfielder Josh George slipped to .268 after a 1-for-12 series against the Aztecs.
CSU Bakersfield is coming off a 19-37 campaign, including a 12-14 mark for seventh place in the Western Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners return 14 lettermen, including five of the 10 position starters and eight pitchers (two starters). First-year head coach Jeremy Beard took over for Bob Macaluso in December.
CSU Bakersfield's top returnees this spring are infielder David Metzger (.305, 47 RBI, 10 steals in 2016), catcher/infielder Jake Ortega (.286, 13 RBI) and pitcher/infielder Max Carter (.285, 26 RBI). The two returning starters on the mound are Carter (0-8, 7.47 ERA) and Andrew Hansen (3-8, 5.38 ERA).
Senior right-hander Garrett Nimmo, 2-5 with a 5.96 ERA a year ago, will start for CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday night, facing Mustang junior southpaw Trent Shelton (0-0, 0.00 ERA) (pictured above), making his first start for Cal Poly after transferring from Oregon State two years ago.
The Roadrunners are off to an 8-3 start, all at home, after winning two of three games against Brigham Young last week. CSU Bakersfield opened the year by losing two of three games against Utah but has won seven of eight since, including a four-game sweep against Portland and a midweek win over UC Santa Barbara. CSU Bakersfield sports a .308 team batting average with a 3.71 staff ERA and a .954 fielding percentage with 19 errors in 11 games.
Outfielder Ryan Grotjohn sports a team-leading .410 average while designated hitter Mahlik Jones is hitting .405 and Ortega .389. Seven Roadrunners own batting averages above the .300 mark. Outfielder Mark Pena leads the squad with 10 RBI.
CSU Bakersfield launched its baseball program in 2009 and the Roadrunners have been a member of the WAC since the 2013 campaign. Macaluso replaced Bill Kernen as head coach on Aug. 31, 2015, but coached just one season. Beard coached at Portland in 2014 and 2015 before becoming pitching coach of the Roadrunners for the 2016 campaign. He also has coached at Central Catholic High School (1998-2001) in Portland, Ore., Columbia Basin College (Wash.) from 2001-10 and Western Nevada College in 2011 and 2012. Beard was a pitcher at Oregon State, graduating in 1996.
Cal Poly and CSU Bakersfield have met 22 times on the baseball field since the series began in 2009. The Mustangs hold a 16-6 advantage in the series, winning six of the first seven, capturing a pair of midweek games in both 2013 and 2014, splitting last year's two meetings and claiming both midweek games in 2016. Larry Lee is 16-6 against CSU Bakersfield while Jeremy Beard is 0-0 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 (457-345-2) 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.
Cal Poly continues its long home stand by Loyola Marymount for a three-game weekend series. Games Friday and Saturday start at 6 p.m., with the finale on Sunday to begin at 1 p.m.