SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (10-17, 2-1 Big West), which opened Big West play with a two-to-one series win at UC Irvine over the weekend, continues conference action Saturday at home with the first two of three games against Hawai'i (18-9, 0-0 Big West). The Rainbow Warriors own the best overall record in the Big West after winning three of four non-conference games at home against Nevada last weekend.
First pitches inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800) will be at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. Friday's contest has been postponed due to rain. All three games of the series 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 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 improved during Cal Poly's 12-game home stand inside Baggett Stadium. 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 were still an issue, however, as Cal Poly committed 22 in 12 home games for a .953 fielding percentage.
Last week, the Mustangs dropped a 12-8 decision at Fresno State, surrendering 18 hits. Cal Poly closed a 10-1 gap to 12-8 and had the bases loaded in the ninth, but couldn't complete the comeback. Junior center fielder Josh George had three hits. The Mustangs earned their second series win of the year last weekend at UC Irvine, taking the opener 3-2 in 10 innings on Michael Sanderson's double down the right-field line, dropping a 3-2 decision Saturday afternoon and rallying from a 3-0 deficit for a 6-5 triumph Sunday as Kyle Marinconz hit a two-run double in the seventh and an RBI single in the ninth.
Hawai'i, which has played all but three games at home so far, opened the year by losing two of three games against North Carolina State and splitting four contests against San Francisco. The Rainbow Warriors have won 17 of their last 22 games since a 1-4 start.
Hawai'i has 14 returning lettermen -- eight position starters and five pitchers -- off last year's 23-30 squad which finished tied for fourth place in the Big West at 12-12. Among the returnees are catcher Kekai Rios (.331, 18 RBI in 2016) and outfielders Ethan Lopez (.302, 15 RBI) and Marcus Doi (.273, 17 RBI).
Hawai'i's pitching staff is anchored by senior right-hander Brendan Hornung (4-7, 3.11 ERA in 2016), the lone returnee on the mound with more than one win. Closers Cody Culp (five saves) and Matt Valencia (four saves) also graduated.
So far this season, Rios has the top batting average for the Rainbow Warriors at .345 with seven doubles and 12 RBI, followed by left fielder Adam Fogel (.325, eight doubles, 14 RBI) and center fielder Dylan Vchulek (.321, five doubles, 14 RBI). Shortstop Dustin Demeter has a team-leading 19 RBI with a .277 mark at the plate.
On the mound, Hornung is 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA as the Friday night starter while Saturday starter, southpaw Dominic DeMiero, sports a 4-1 mark and 1.82 ERA. Sunday's starter is undecided, but likely will be one of two right-handers -- Jackson Rees (3-0, 3.14 ERA) or Neil Uskali (3-1, 3.23 ERA).
Coached by Mike Trapasso (16th season, 444-431, Oklahoma State '87), Hawai'i has a .274 team batting average through 27 games. The Rainbow Warriors have stolen 21 of 29 bases and sport a 3.07 staff ERA and a .972 fielding percentage with 30 errors in 27 games.
Cal Poly will send junior right-hander Erich Uelmen (1-4, 2.38 ERA) to the mound in Saturday's opener, seeking his first win since Opening Day at Cal. Sophomore right-hander Spencer Howard (1-0, Big West-leading 1.60 ERA) is the Mustang starter for Saturday's nightcap while Bobby Ay (0-3, 4.50 ERA), another sophomore righty, draws the nod on Sunday.
Hawai'i played its first Big West season in baseball in 2013 after 33 years in the Western Athletic Conference, claiming titles in 1991, 1992 and 2011 and the tournament crown in 2010. Cal Poly also played in the WAC in 1995 and 1996 before joining the Big West. The Rainbow Warriors reached the College World Series in 1980, finishing second, and have made 13 NCAA regional appearances.
Trapasso has led the Rainbow Warriors to winning records in nine of his 16 seasons at the helm and 30 or more wins eight times, the last in 2012. He was named WAC Coach of the Year three times. Trapasso was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech for seven years and at Missouri and South Florida for three seasons each. He was a pitcher at Oklahoma State from 1984-86 and, drafted four times, pitched briefly for two years in the minor leagues.
Cal Poly has a 17-8 advantage over Hawai'i in the series dating back to 1995, sweeping the Rainbow Warriors three years ago in Honolulu as well as in 2015 at Baggett Stadium. Last year, the Mustangs overcame a 6-3 loss in the opener with 5-4 and 5-2 victories inside Les Murakami Stadium. Larry Lee is 10-2 against Hawai'i while Trapasso is 2-10 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 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 27 games is McKenna with a .318 mark, including five doubles and 10 RBI. Sanderson, who missed the four-game weekend series against Nebraska with a leg injury, owns a .317 average with six doubles, a triple and nine RBI while George, who broke out of a 0-for-22 slump with two hits in the finale of the Nebraska series and three more at Fresno State, is hitting at a .262 clip with seven doubles and 16 RBI. Freshman second baseman Bradlee Beesley is hitting .270, shortstop Kyle Marinconz (pictured above) .262 with nine extra-base hits and 15 RBI and Meyer .250 with 17 RBI.
Uelmen, who has struck out 45 batters over 45 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. Three 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. He gave up two earned runs and four hits over six innings in a 3-2 loss to Nebraska two weeks ago and one earned run and seven hits over six frames in a non-decision 10-inning 3-2 win at UC Irvine last week. Uelmen's only win was in the season opener at Cal on Feb. 18.
Howard picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against Wichita State three 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 and also had a no-decision in the 3-2 loss to UC Irvine.
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 (465-353-2) 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. Lee earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and, in his 15th season at Cal Poly, notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13 against Gonzaga.
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.
Next week Cal Poly hosts Santa Clara on Tuesday night before continuing Big West play with a three-game series Thursday through Saturday at UC Davis. The middle game Friday night will be played at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats.