SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (18-20, 8-4 Big West), which has opened Big West play with four consecutive two-to-one series wins and has won 10 of its last 14 games after an 8-16 start to the 2017 season, steps away from its conference schedule for five non-conference contests over the next eight days, beginning with Fresno State (19-20, 9-9 Mountain West) on Tuesday night inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800).
First pitch is set for 6 p.m. and 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 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.
After winning just twice during a season-opening 11-game road trip, Cal Poly posted a 6-6 mark in a 12-game home stand in March. Since the start of Big West play on the final day of March, the Mustangs have hit .329, have outscored the opposition 97-56, have compiled a 3.45 ERA and 10-4 record and own a .976 fielding percentage with 13 errors in the 14 games.
Those numbers are in sharp contrast to the .253 average, 42 errors and 121 runs surrendered en route to an 8-16 record in the first 24 games of the season.
Last week, the Mustangs defeated CSU Bakersfield 10-2 as freshman Bradley Beesley drove in four runs with two hits, sophomore center fielder Alex McKenna hit his third home run of the year and Cal Poly scored 10 times in the first three innings. The Mustangs then returned home and earned a two-games-to-one Big West series win against No. 8 Cal State Fullerton, rebounding from Friday's 7-4 setback with 13-6 and 8-4 triumphs before 6,782 fans, including 2,850 on Saturday night. Cal Poly hit .364 in the series, Beesley and McKenna collecting seven hits each and Colby Barrick adding six. The Mustangs are 12-9 against the Titans over the last seven seasons.
Fresno State routed Nevada 25-7 on Sunday in Reno, but lost the Mountain West series two games to one. The Bulldogs were 14-10 after a 12-8 win over the Mustangs on March 28 inside Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium, but have lost 10 of their last 15 contests. Fresno State owns a pair of series wins over Air Force and one against Nevada at home along with a 2-2 split in a season-opening series against Oregon.
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 .280 so far this season, Arruda .384 with 45 RBI, Guibor .299 and Stone .325. Third baseman Jesse Medrano is hitting .319 with 13 doubles and 27 RBI, designated hitter Zach Ashford .313 and shortstop Korby Batesole .306 with 15 RBI.
Coached by Mike Batesole (15th season (500-393 at Fresno State), 22nd season overall (756-551-1), 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 .301 as a team with 27 steals in 38 attempts. Fresno State's pitching staff has compiled a 5.80 ERA and the Bulldogs own a .967 fielding percentage with 51 errors in 39 games.
Cal Poly and Fresno State are meeting for the 182nd time Tuesday night. The two teams split last year's pair of midweek games and the Bulldogs posted a 12-8 triumph on March 28 thanks to an 18-hit offensive attack.
The Bulldogs own a 114-67 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 29 games against the Bulldogs, including three of five games during Fresno State's national championship season in 2008.
Larry Lee is 21-10 against Fresno State while Mike Batesole is 19-26 against Cal Poly, including a 10-21 mark at Fresno State and 9-5 record at CSUN.
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) 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 38 games is McKenna with a .371 mark, including nine doubles, four home runs and 26 RBI. He is 29-for-62 (.468) over his last 13 games with 10 multiple-hit contests. Sanderson is hitting .344 with seven doubles and 13 RBI, going 37-for-100 (.370) over his last 24 games.
Beesley is hitting .324 with 11 doubles, going 44-for-120 (.367) since and including the middle game of the San Diego State series when he produced his first four-hit game. He was hitting .160 prior to that contest March 4. Meyer owns a .270 average with 25 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 .265 clip with nine doubles and 22 RBI. Shortstop Kyle Marinconz has a .243 average with 13 extra-base hits and 22 RBI.
Uelmen, who has struck out 53 batters over 55 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 2-6 because in an early-season stretch of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates. Six 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 five weeks ago and one earned run and seven hits over six frames in a non-decision 10-inning 3-2 win at UC Irvine four weeks ago. Uelmen's first win was in the season opener at Cal on Feb. 18 and he finally notched win No. 2 two weeks ago at UC Davis, giving up one run and five hits over six innings.
Howard (3-1, 2.31 ERA, second-best in the Big West) picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against Wichita State six weeks ago, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts, and earned his second win in the Hawai'i series and his third last week against Cal State Fullerton. Sophomore righty Bobby Ay (1-3, 4.35 ERA) earned his first win April 9 against Hawai'i, pitching into the eighth inning for the first time and allowing a run and five hits with six strikeouts.
Cal Poly will start Kyle Smith (1-2, 5.81 ERA) on the mound Tuesday night as he faces Fresno State's J.J. Santa Cruz (2-1, 6.59 ERA) in a matchup of junior southpaws. Smith earned his first victory of the year last Tuesday at CSU Bakersfield, allowing one run and five hits over 5 2/3 innings with three 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 (473-356-2) 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.
Cal Poly visits UCLA for a three-game non-conference series Friday through Sunday at Jackie Robinson Stadium and completes the stretch of five consecutive non-conference games a week from Tuesday at home against Pepperdine.