SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (8-15, 0-0 Big West), which closed out a 12-game home stand by dropping three of four games to Nebraska over the weekend, plays its final Big West Conference tuneup Tuesday night, visiting Central California rival Fresno State (13-10, 5-4 Mountain West).
First pitch inside Pete Beiden Field (cap.: 3,575) against the Bulldogs will be at 6:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 with Chris Sylvester providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats and an audio stream 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 struggled in all facets of the game during their season-opening 11-game road trip. The pitching staff's ERA was 5.50 with opposing batters hitting a robust .286. Defensively, Cal Poly committed five errors in the middle game at Pacific, three more in three other contests and sported a .955 fielding percentage with 18 errors in the 11 games.
And the offense struggled as well, as the Mustangs hit just .233 and were 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 numbers have improved since Cal Poly returned to Baggett Stadium for the 12-game home stand. At home, the Mustangs hit .262 with 22 doubles, six triples and four home runs while the pitching staff has compiled a 2.47 ERA with 123 strikeouts over 113 innings. Errors are still an issue as Cal Poly has committed 22 in 12 games for a .953 fielding percentage.
A week after opening the home schedule with a 9-7 win over CSU Bakersfield and taking one of three games against Loyola Marymount, Cal Poly earned a 6-1 win over Gonzaga and claimed two of three games against Wichita State for its first series win of the year. After losing three of four to Nebraska, the Mustangs are 6-6 at home and 2-9 on the road.
Fresno State slipped to 13-10 over the weekend by losing two of three games to San Diego State. The Bulldogs, 5-4 in Mountain West contests, split four games against Oregon to open the 2017 season, then dropped two of three games to UC Riverside. The Bulldogs then won three straight series, two games to one, against Nevada, Eastern Michigan and Air Force prior to their home series against San Diego State last weekend.
Fresno State's pitching staff is anchored by junior southpaw Ricky Tyler Thomas (2-1, 3.05 ERA), freshman right-hander Davis Moore (2-1, 3.43 ERA) and junior righty Rickey Ramirez (2-3, 6.21 ERA). The Bulldogs will start junior southpaw JJ Santa Cruz (2-1, 6.41 ERA) against Cal Poly. Santa Cruz started Sunday's game against San Diego State and allowed four runs (three earned) and five hits in one inning of work.
Fresno State has 15 lettermen returning off last year's 36-22 squad that finished first in the Mountain West regular season standings but went 0-2 in the conference tournament and did not qualify for the NCAA regionals. Among the returnees are seven position starters and seven pitchers. Top returning position player include second baseman Scott Silva (.357, four home runs. 23 RBI in 2016), first baseman Aaron Arruda (.320, 11 home runs, 44 RBI), right fielder Austin Guibor (.293, seven home runs, 36 RBI) and center fielder Jake Stone (.312, three home runs, 35 RBI).
Silva is hitting .290 so far this season, Arruda .340 with 22 RBI, Guibor .250 and Stone .259. Left fielder Jared Akins sports a team-leading .352 average, followed by catcher Carter Bins at .345.
Coached by Mike Batesole (15th season (491-386 at Fresno State), 22nd season overall (747-544-1), Cal State Fullerton '90), who coached at CSUN for seven years prior to becoming coach of the Bulldogs, Fresno State has made 33 NCAA tournament appearances, including four in the College World Series and capturing the national title in 2008. The 2016 Mountain West regular season title was Fresno State's 35th conference championship but the first since 2012.
The Bulldogs are hitting .290 as a team with 16 steals in 24 attempts. Fresno State's pitching staff has compiled a 4.76 ERA and the Bulldogs own a .962 fielding percentage with 37 errors in 23 games.
Cal Poly and Fresno State are meeting for the 181st time Tuesday night. The Mustangs won three of the last four midweek games against the Bulldogs, splitting two a year ago after Cal Poly won twice in 2015. The two teams did not face each other in the 2013 or 2014 seasons.
The Bulldogs own a 114-66 advantage despite the Mustangs' recent success. In 2005 Cal Poly swept Fresno State in a three-game series for the first time in the then-60-year history of the rivalry and duplicated the feat opening the 2006 campaign in Baggett Stadium and again in 2007 at Beiden Field. The Mustangs have won 21 of their last 28 games against the Bulldogs, including three of five games during Fresno State's national championship season in 2008.
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), 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 23 games is McKenna with a .318 mark, including five doubles and 18 RBI. Sanderson, who missed last weekend's series against Nebraska with a leg injury, owns a .290 average with five doubles, a triple and five RBI while Meyer is hitting at a .247 clip with 14 RBI.
Uelmen, who sports a 2.52 ERA with 41 strikeouts over 39 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 1-4 because in a recent streak of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates. Two 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, and he gave up two earned runs and four hits over six innings in a 3-2 loss to Nebraska last week.
Sophomore right-hander Spencer Howard owns a 1.37 ERA and picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against Wichita State two weeks ago, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts. He gave up one earned run over five innings with eight strikeouts in a no-decision against Nebraska last week.
True freshman right-hander Connor Redmond (0-0, 27.00 ERA), a graduate of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., will make his first collegiate start on the mound for Cal Poly on Tuesday night.
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 140 of their last 186 home games for a winning percentage of 75.3 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 (463-351-2) 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 set 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 opens Big West play Friday night with the first of three games at UC Irvine.