SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (19-23 overall, 6-6 Big West), swept at home by Nos. 4/9 UCLA last weekend, one week after sweeping Long Beach State for the first time in 21 years, wraps up a stretch of five non-conference games Tuesday night by hosting Santa Clara (19-22, 6-12 West Coast) for a single contest inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Broncos of first-year head coach Rusty Filter square off at 6 p.m. in a rematch of last week's game at Stephen Schott Stadium, won by Santa Clara 10-7. Tuesday's 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.
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 the sweep of Long Beach State on April 20-22. 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 10-7 at Santa Clara before falling three times to UCLA. The Mustangs hit just .234 against the Bruins, junior catcher Nick Meyer going 6-for-12 and sophomore outfielder Bradlee Beesley compiling a 4-for-12 series with three RBI.
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 130 points to .269.
Senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick sits atop all Mustang hitters with a .352 average while Meyer, a junior catcher, is 21-for-53 (.396) over his last 12 games to raise his average to .316.
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 .315 mark. He also tops the squad in doubles (10) and multiple-hit games (17). Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .307 with eight doubles, five home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 29 RBI.
Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz sports a .290 mark with seven doubles, four home runs and 22 RBI, elevating his average 52 points over the last nine weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield.
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .290, tops in the conference, by hitting .307 since and including a doubleheader sweep March 3 against Pacific.
Santa Clara opened its 2018 season by winning 14 of its first 19 games with series wins over Wake Forest, Utah, Sacramento State and, to open West Coast Conference play, San Diego. The Broncos, however, dropped 16 of their next 18 games to fall five games under the .500 mark, losing series against Saint Mary's, Portland, BYU, Pepperdine and Washington State.
Last week, Santa Clara won three of four contests to get back on track. After defeating Cal Poly 10-7 on Tuesday night, the Broncos won their series at West Coast Conference co-leader San Francisco by taking the first two games, 4-3 and 12-5, before dropping a 12-4 decision Sunday.
Forty-one games into the season under Filter (first season, 19-22, San Diego State '90), Santa Clara is hitting .245 as a team with 35 steals in 72 attempts, a 4.98 staff ERA and a .963 fielding percentage with 61 errors. Shortstop Jason Dicochea is the top Bronco hitter with a .306 average, 14 doubles and 22 RBI while center fielder Joe Becht is hitting .280 with five doubles, three homers and 19 RBI, stealing 12 of 19 bases. Designated hitter Evan Haberle sports a .273 average and first baseman Jake Brodt owns a .265 mark with 12 doubles, 11 home runs and 43 RBI.
Scheduled to start on the mound Tuesday night are freshman right-hander Dylan Villalobos (0-0, 33.75 ERA) (pictured at right) for Cal Poly and sophomore right-hander Mike Praszker (1-2, 4.45 ERA) for Santa Clara. Villalobos has not pitched since March 10 at Nebraska. Praszker has appeared in 20 games, all but one in relief, and has struck out 33 batters over 32 1/3 innings.
Santa Clara has 24 lettermen returning off last year's 13-40 squad that finished seventh in the West Coast Conference at 9-18. Among the returnees are six position starters and six pitchers.
Santa Clara has finished first in the West Coast Conference four times, the last in 2001. The Broncos are in their 136th year of competition in baseball, earning 2,263 wins with 12 NCAA regional appearances (the last in 1997) and one trip to the College World Series (1962).
Filter was pitching coach under Mark Marquess at Stanford for eight seasons before taking over for Dan O'Brien at Santa Clara last June. He helped the Cardinal reach the NCAA Tournament five times, including three trips to the Super Regional, and developed 20 pitchers who were selected in the MLB Draft. In 16 seasons as an assistant coach under Jim Dietz and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at his alma mater, Filter mentored 58 draft picks, including two top overall picks in the Major League draft, Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and Mark Appel in 2013. Filter played at San Diego State from 1987-90, originally as a catcher before moving to the mound, and was drafted by Toronto in 1990.
Cal Poly and Santa Clara have played 86 baseball games against each other since the series began in 1956. The Broncos hold a 44-42 advantage, though Cal Poly won both meetings a year ago by scores of 11-7 at Santa Clara and 15-0 in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly has won eight of the last 11 meetings. Larry Lee is 19-16 against Santa Clara while Rusty Filter is 1-0 against Cal Poly.
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 has played four contests against Pac-12 schools, losing once to Oregon State in Surprise, Ariz., and three times to UCLA last weekend.
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 226 home games for a 72.6 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 (502-387-2) 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.
Cal Poly flies to Honolulu for three Big West games against Hawai'i on Friday through Sunday, then opens an eight-game home stand next Wednesday (May 9) by hosting San Jose State.