SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (13-18, 4-2 Big West), which has opened Big West play with two-to-one series wins against UC Irvine and Hawai'i and extended its winning streak to three games by shutting out Santa Clara on Tuesday, resumes conference action Thursday afternoon with the first of three games against UC Davis (9-17, 2-4 Big West).
First pitches inside Dobbins Baseball Stadium (cap.: 3,500) are 3 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday. Friday's 6 p.m. contest will be played at Raley Field (cap.: 14,014) in West Sacramento. All three games 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 improved during Cal Poly's 12-game home stand inside Baggett Stadium -- the team splitting the 12 contests -- and the Mustangs have hit .338 in their first six Big West games in addition to compiling a 3.98 staff ERA and a .979 fielding percentage with just five errors.
Last week, the Mustangs did not play a midweek game during the first week of Spring Quarter and won two of three games against Hawai'i at home. The two teams traded 10-run decisions in a Saturday doubleheader after Friday's contest was rained out, then the Mustangs clinched the series with a 7-1 triumph Sunday. Sophomore center fielder Alex McKenna went 8-for-15 at the plate with four RBI and three runs scored while senior infielder Michael Sanderson was 6-for-12 with four runs scored.
Cal Poly blanked Santa Clara 15-0 Tuesday night to close out a four-game home stand. McKenna belted two home runs and drove in five runs while sophomore catcher Nick Meyer added three hits and three RBI. A quartet of Mustang pitchers combined on a two-hitter and 10 strikeouts, sophomore right-hander Cam Schneider (2-2) earning the victory.
UC Davis was swept by Cal State Fullerton in a three-game Big West series last weekend by scores of 6-0, 9-8 and 8-5. The Aggies also lost to Sacramento State 1-0 on Tuesday despite pitching a one-hitter.
UC Davis is coming off a 17-36 campaign, including a 5-19 mark for ninth place in the Big West Conference. The Aggies return 23 lettermen, including seven of the nine position starters and eight pitchers.
UC Davis's top three returnees this spring are catcher Logan Denholm (.280, four home runs, 27 RBI in 2016) and outfielders Cameron Olson (.273, five home runs, 28 RBI) and Mark Cardinalli (.333, 19 RBI). Topping the list of returning pitchers are southpaw Robert Garcia (3-5, 2.73 ERA in 2016) and righty Justin Mullins (2-4, 4.79 ERA).
UC Davis won two of three games against Utah Valley and was off to a 3-2 start before losing seven of its next eight games. The Aggies opened Big West play with a series win over CSUN at home before getting swept at Cal State Fullerton. UC Davis sports a .268 team batting average with 41 doubles and 19 home runs and has compiled a 4.73 staff ERA and a .964 fielding percentage with 35 errors in 26 games. The Aggies have stolen 30 of 44 bases.
Left fielder Ryan Anderson currently sports a .317 average with four doubles, four home runs and 18 RBI. Catcher Ignacio Diaz is hitting .314 with four doubles and 12 RBI while Olson owns a .289 average with four home runs and 13 RBI.
Garcia (1-2, 4.23 ERA), a sophomore southpaw, will start Thursday's game, followed by junior lefty Orlando Razo (3-2, 4.83 ERA) and Mullins (0-2, 4.93 ERA), a senior right-hander. Cal Poly will counter with the same rotation it has used over the last four weeks -- junior Erich Uelmen (1-5, 3.47 ERA) and sophomores Spencer Howard (2-0, 1.83 ERA) and Bobby Ay (1-3, 3.73 ERA), all right-handers.
Coached by Matt Vaughn (sixth season, 125-177-1, UC Davis '92), UC Davis has appeared in one NCAA Division I regional (2008) and seven in Division II, making two appearances in the Division II College World Series (1995, 2003). The Aggies won the California Collegiate Athletic Association regular-season title in 2004 and nine Northern California Athletic Conference championships.
Vaughn was an assistant at UC Davis for 19 seasons before he was elevated to head coach following the 2011 season. Vaughn pitched for the Aggies from 1989-92, starting 26 games and winning nine. He earned honorable mention All-Northern California Athletic Conference honors as a senior.
Cal Poly and UC Davis have met 42 times on the baseball field since the series began in 1951. Thirty-six of those meetings are over the last 12 seasons after the Aggies announced their intention to move to Division I, a transfer that was completed in time for the 2008 season. The Mustangs hold a 32-10 advantage in the series after winning two of three against the Aggies in San Luis Obispo last season.
Cal Poly had won eight consecutive series against UC Davis before the Aggies took two of three games in 2012 in Davis. Cal Poly is 27-9 against UC Davis, including a 19-2 mark in Baggett Stadium, since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 27-9 against UC Davis while Matt Vaughn is 5-10 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), a second-team All-Big West selection in 2016, 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) (pictured above) 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 31 games is McKenna with a .354 mark, including six doubles, two home runs and 19 RBI. He is 15-for-30 (.500) over his last six games with five multiple-hit contests. Sanderson, who missed the four-game weekend series against Nebraska with a leg injury, owns a .340 average with seven doubles, a triple and 10 RBI while Beesley is hitting .282. Meyer owns a .270 average with a team-leading 22 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 .268 clip with seven doubles and 17 RBI. Shortstop Kyle Marinconz has a .258 average with 12 extra-base hits and 19 RBI.
Uelmen, who has struck out 48 batters over 49 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 1-5 because in a recent streak of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates. Four 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 three weeks ago and one earned run and seven hits over six frames in a non-decision 10-inning 3-2 win at UC Irvine two weeks ago. 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 four weeks ago, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts, and notched his second win in the Hawai'i series, allowing just three hits and striking out nine over 5 2/3 innings. Sophomore righty Bobby Ay (1-3) earned his first win last Sunday, pitching into the eighth inning for the first time and allowing a run and five hits with six strikeouts.
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 (468-354-2) 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 visits CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday night and continues Big West play with a three-game series Friday through Sunday against top-10 team Cal State Fullerton inside Baggett Stadium.