BIG WEST RELEASE (pdf)
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly will finish third in the Big West Conference baseball standings this spring, according to a preseason poll of the league's nine head coaches.
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs are coming off a momentum-building end to the 2017 campaign, overcoming a 2-9 start by capturing seven of eight Big West series en route to a second-place conference finish. Cal Poly has finished in the top four of the Big West standings 13 times in Lee's previous 15 seasons with the Mustangs.
Cal Poly welcomes back 19 letter winners, including eight position players who made 25 or more starts in 2017, and nine pitchers, six of whom pitched 25 or more innings. In addition, pitchers Jarred Zill and Thomas Triantos, both of whom underwent Tommy John surgery a year ago, are back and the Mustang coaching staff also has 13 newcomers to add to the mix, including two freshman infielders who likely will be in the starting lineup on Opening Day and as many as six first-year pitchers who are high on the preseason depth chart.
Not surprisingly, Cal State Fullerton has been selected to claim the 2018 Big West title. The Titans earned six first-place votes en route to a total of 73 points. Defending Big West Champion Long Beach State sits second with two-first place votes and 65 total points and Cal Poly is one point back after collecting 64 points to hold the third slot.
The Titans, led by seventh-year head coach Rick Vanderhook, enter the 2018 season ranked in every national poll, with their highest ranking of 11th being handed out by both the Baseball America and USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls. Cal State Fullerton is the second-highest West Coast team in the polls, behind only Oregon State, which is ranked as high as No. 2. Cal State Fullerton is the lone Big West team to be placed in the polls.
Cal State Fullerton, despite finishing third in the Big West with a 15-9 mark, made an impressive run in the postseason and concluded the year making its 18th trip to the College World Series and its second in the last three seasons. The Titans seek their 22nd Big West title and 30th conference championship overall, armed with two All-Big West performers from a year ago in sophomore Sahid Valenzuela (.314) and junior Brett Conine (15 saves).
Long Beach State captured its ninth conference title, first since 2008, after tallying a 20-4 league record and making its 22nd postseason trip and the third NCAA Regional appearance in four seasons. The Dirtbags return three 2017 All-Big West selections in second-teamers Chris Rivera (13 saves) and Jarren Duran (.308, 19 steals) and honorable mention member Laine Huffman (.294).
UC Santa Barbara, fourth with 49 points, is closely followed by CSUN and its 48 points. The Anteaters of UC Irvine, who earned one first-place vote and a total of 43 points, owns the sixth slot, while Hawai'i (27) clinched the seventh slot. UC Riverside ranked eighth (26) and UC Davis (10) rounded out the nine-team field.
Cal Poly opens its 2018 season Feb. 16 against Gonzaga in the Surprise Tournament at Surprise, Arizona.
2018 Big West Conference Baseball Coaches Poll
1. Cal State Fullerton - 73 (6)
2. Long Beach State - 65 (2)
3. Cal Poly - 64
4. UC Santa Barbara - 49
5. CSUN - 48
6. UC Irvine- 43 (1)
7. Hawai'i - 27
8. UC Riverside - 26
9. UC Davis - 10
First-place votes in parentheses