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Cal Poly Entertains Nos. 4/9 UCLA for Non-Conference Weekend Series

Cal Poly Entertains Nos. 4/9 UCLA for Non-Conference Weekend Series
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (19-20 overall, 6-6 Big West), which last weekend swept Long Beach State for the first time in 21 years, steps away from Big West play and continues a stretch of five non-conference games this weekend by hosting Pac-12 Conference leader and Nos. 4/9 UCLA (26-10, 14-4 Pac-12) for a three-game series inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138).
 
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Bruins of 14th-year head coach John Savage square off at 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. 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.
 
After losing three of four games in the College Baseball Classic hosted by the city of Surprise, Ariz., to open the season, defeating Gonzaga 8-7 in 10 innings on Scott Ogrin's solo home run, Cal Poly earned victories over No. 4-ranked Arkansas and Michigan in the seven-team Tony Gwynn Legacy on the last weekend of February.
 
Alex McKenna's ninth-inning single to right-center field snapped a 3-3 tie as Cal Poly edged Arkansas 4-3 and sophomore catcher Myles Emmerson knocked in four runs with three singles and a triple while freshman right-hander Darren Nelson pitched seven scoreless innings of one-hit baseball in the Mustangs' 8-1 triumph over Michigan.
 
Cal Poly was 3-4 after the Tony Gwynn Legacy and was within one game of the .500 mark on five other occasions before finally getting over the hump and to the .500 mark at 19-19 with last weekend's sweep of Long Beach State by scores of 5-4, 5-2 and 8-2. The Mustangs' only series wins so far this season are three-game sweeps against Dartmouth and Long Beach State and two games to one over UC Davis.
 
The Mustangs have earned a pair of walk-off wins, scoring the winning run on wild pitches each time. Junior catcher Nick Meyer scored on a wild pitch in the 10th inning for a 5-4 triumph against New Mexico on March 12 and beat San Diego State 5-4 on a walk-off wild pitch as the Aztecs were trying to intentionally walk Colby Barrick in the ninth inning.
 
Last week, Cal Poly fell 11-9 at Pepperdine before Cal Poly hit .306 in sweeping Long Beach State for the first time since 1997. Senior designated hitter Elijah Skipps went 5-for-10 in the series with three RBI, sophomore right fielder Bradlee Beesley was 5-for-13 with two RBI and both Alex McKenna and Scott Ogrin collected four hits and two RBI.
 
Cal Poly slipped back under the .500 mark Tuesday night with a 10-7 setback at Santa Clara.
 
Lee welcomed back 19 letter winners this spring, 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, returned this year.
 
"We are strong up the middle with Nick Meyer behind the plate, Kyle Marinconz and Scott Ogrin in the middle of the infield and Alex McKenna in center field," noted Lee. "All have lots of game experience and each one of them has improved on the defensive side. You want to be strong up the middle and we are. They all understand how to play their positions."
 
McKenna, a first-team All-Big West outfielder a year ago after hitting .360 with 11 doubles, five home runs, 13 steals and 31 RBI as a sophomore, anchors the Mustang outfield this spring after a solid summer in the Cape Cod League with Yarmouth-Dennis. McKenna was Cal Poly's leadoff hitter over the final 43 games of the 2017 season and produced a team-leading 30 multiple-hit games, including 11 three-hit contests. He also led the Mustangs with 10 multiple-RBI games. 
 
"McKenna is coming off a very good season for us, and playing in the Cape allowed him to see power arms on a daily basis, which has really helped him develop as a hitter," said Lee. "Hitting from the leadoff spot is where it starts, and Alex has the ability not only to hit for average, but also for power. He is the leader of our outfield group and continues to improve on the defensive side."
 
A second-team All-Big West honoree as a freshman in 2017, sophomore Bradlee Beesley started in six different positions, including 24 games at third, and hit .305 with 13 doubles, three triples and 14 RBI, mostly from the No. 2 spot in the order. He is a mainstay in right field this spring and, after a .139 start in the first nine games, has elevated his batting average 141 points to .280.
 
Senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick (pictured above) sits atop all Mustang hitters with a .349 average while McKenna, 6-for-13 in the CSUN series, 5-for-12 against Cal State Fullerton, 6-for-15 versus UC Davis and 5-for-10 against Long Beach State, has compiled a .329 mark. He also tops the squad in doubles (10) and multiple-hit games (17). Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .308 with eight doubles, five home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 28 RBI.
 
Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz sports a .297 mark with four home runs and 22 RBI, elevating his average 59 points over the last eight weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield, while junior catcher Nick Meyer is 15-for-41 (.366) over his last nine games to raise his average to .300. 
 
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .295 by hitting .315 since and including a doubleheader sweep March 3 against Pacific.
 
UCLA started off 10-2 and 15-4 to crack the Top 10 nationally, then fell back a bit before rebounding with a sweep of last weekend's series against crosstown rival USC. The Bruins also have swept Portland, Washington State and Utah and UCLA took two of three games against Baylor, Arizona and Stanford while losing two of three at Cal.
 
Thirty-six games into the season under Savage (475-338-1 at UCLA, 563-422-2 in 17 seasons overall, Nevada '91), UCLA is hitting .296 as a team with 45 steals in 56 attempts, a 2.78 staff ERA and a .979 fielding percentage with 28 errors. Second baseman Chase Strumpf is the top Bruin hitter with a .363 mark, 14 doubles, eight home runs and 39 RBI, followed by outfielder Jeremy Ydens (.358, 11 doubles, 16 RBI), outfielder Daniel Amaral (.336, 10 doubles, 26 RBI) and first baseman Michael Toglia (.338, 16 doubles, nine home runs, 40 RBI).
 
The UCLA pitching staff is paced by Jake Bird (5-2, 1.61 ERA), Zach Pettway (6-1, 2.83 ERA) and Ryan Garcia (4-0, 1.77 ERA), all right-handers.
UCLA has 22 lettermen returning off last year's 30-27 squad that finished third in the Pac-12 at 19-11 and qualified for the Long Beach Regional for the second straight year, finishing 0-2. Two years ago, the Bruins went 4-1 in the Long Beach Regional before losing two of three games to Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regional, also at Blair Field. Among the returnees this year are seven position starters and nine pitchers.
 
UCLA claimed the 2013 College World Series title and its Pac-12 championship in 2015 was its 11th. The Bruins have made 21 regional appearances and have qualified for both the Super Regionals and College World Series five times.
 
Under Savage's guidance, UCLA has advanced to the postseason in nine of the last 12 seasons and has produced 88 draft selections, including 32 players drafted within the first 10 rounds. Last year's six selections brought the program's total to 270 all-time MLB Draft selections. Savage has coached 14 players at UCLA that have competed in the major leagues. 
 
Prior to taking over UCLA's program, Savage was head coach at UC Irvine for three seasons (2002-2004) and was an assistant coach at USC (1997-2000) and Nevada (1992-1996). He pitched at Santa Clara for three seasons and was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 16th round of the 1986 MLB Draft. Savage played two seasons in the Reds' minor league system.
 
The Bruins own a 25-11 advantage in their series against Cal Poly, beating the Mustangs once in the 2013 regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium en route to the national championship and winning two of three games against Cal Poly a year ago in Jackie Robinson Stadium. In its Big West championship season in 2014, Cal Poly won two of three games against UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium, including a 2-0 shutout pitched by then-freshman Slater Lee, a two-hitter with seven strikeouts.
 
Larry Lee is 7-11 against UCLA while John Savage is 18-9 against Cal Poly, including an 11-7 mark at UCLA and 7-2 record at UC Irvine.
 
Cal Poly will play 16 games against 2017 NCAA Regional participants this spring, has a pair of home stands of at least seven games, 30 home games in all and will play four contests against Pac-12 schools, including a three-game set against UCLA inside Baggett Stadium in late April.
 
A year ago, the Mustangs won 20 of their last 32 contests, and captured seven of eight conference series en route to a second-place finish at 16-8. Cal Poly swept just one series last season -- at UC Santa Barbara in the penultimate series of the year -- and won eight of its 15 series overall. The Mustangs, however, were just 12-20 against non-conference opponents and won only one of the seven non-conference series -- against Wichita State.
 
Cal Poly has had just four losing seasons since 2000 and has reached the 30-win mark 11 times this century. The Mustangs have won 164 of their last 223 home games for a 73.5 winning percentage. Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, captured its first Big West championship in 2014 and has four second-place finishes, four thirds and six fourths since becoming a member of the conference in 1997. 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 State Fullerton is the only other Big West team that can make the same claim.
 
All 56 Mustang games last spring were played in the Golden State. This season Cal Poly opened the campaign with four games in Surprise, Ariz., visited Nebraska for a four-game series last month and travels to Hawai'i for a three-game Big West series in early May.
 
Over the last six seasons from 2012-17, Cal Poly has won 210 games, the third-highest total among the 24 California schools with Division I programs. Averaging 35 wins per season during those six campaigns, the victory total is seventh among 46 schools in the NCAA's West Region. In addition, from 2012-14, Cal Poly averaged 41 wins a year with 123 victories, more than any other Division I team in California, and the Mustangs have averaged 32.5 victories per season under Lee's guidance.
 
Lee (502-384-2) reached the 500-victory milestone April 20 with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. He 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 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, 2017 against Gonzaga.
 
Next week, Cal Poly hosts Santa Clara on Tuesday night before flying to Honolulu for three Big West games against Hawai'i on Friday through Sunday.