SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (22-25 overall, 8-7 Big West), which moved into a second-place tie in the Big West Conference standings after winning two of three games at Hawai'i over the weekend and earned a 5-3 triumph in its rematch with San Jose State on Wednesday night, continues an eight-game home stand this weekend by hosting UC Irvine (27-19, 8-7 Big West) with second place in the Big West Conference on the line inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Anteaters of 11th-year head coach Mike Gillespie square off at 6 p.m. PDT 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.
Cal Poly is tied for second place with UC Irvine in the Big West, both 8-7 and four games behind frontrunner Cal State Fullerton (12-3) with nine games remaining for each team. UC Santa Barbara and Hawai'i share fourth place at 9-9. The Mustangs host the Anteaters this weekend and UC Santa Barbara on May 18-20.
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 a 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 and, last weekend, Hawai'i, posting 16-0 and 10-9 victories before falling in the finale 6-2. Cal Poly hit .288 against the Rainbow Warriors, Alex McKenna going 6-for-12 with two doubles, a home run and three RBI while Bradlee Beeslee was 5-for-12 with two doubles and five RBI.
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.
The Mustangs bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to beat San Jose State 5-3 on Wednesday night, opening an eight-game home stand. Kyle Marinconz drove in the first two Cal Poly runs with RBI doubles and Scott Ogrin snapped a 3-3 tie with a bases-loaded two-run single in the seventh. Senior southpaw Kyle Smith retired all eight batters he faced for his first win of the year and 14th of his Mustang career.
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 (pictured above), 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 131 points to .270.
McKenna and senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick share the team lead in batting average at .327 while Meyer (pictured at left), a junior catcher, is 29-for-75 (.387) over his last 17 games to raise his average to .322.
McKenna, hitting .415 in five conference series, leads the squad in doubles (13) and multiple-hit games (19). Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .305 with nine doubles, five home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 37 RBI.
Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz sports a .289 mark with 11 doubles (seven in his last 10 games), four home runs and 25 RBI, elevating his average 50 points over the last 10 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.
UC Irvine jumped to a 5-1 start with series wins over Nevada and Gonzaga, but won just nine of its next 20 games to fall back, including a 2-1 series loss at home against Hawai'i in its Big West-opening weekend of play. The Anteaters have bounced back with series wins over Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and CSUN before getting swept by Cal State Fullerton, also at home, two weeks ago. Last weekend, UC Irvine stepped out of conference play and won two of three games against Oregon at home with 2-1 and 10-9 (11 innings) victories and a 10-5 loss.
Forty-six games into the season under 11th-year head coach Mike Gillespie (388-244 at UC Irvine, 1,151-715-2 overall, USC '62), UC Irvine is hitting .281 as a team with 13 steals in 35 attempts, a 3.80 staff ERA and a .973 fielding percentage with 48 errors. First baseman Ryan Fitzpatrick leads all Anteater hitters with a .335 average, including 13 doubles, eight home runs and 41 RBI, followed by a pair of .313 hitters — left fielder Jake Palmer (six doubles, 17 RBI) and third baseman Brendan Brooks (four doubles, 20 RBI).
The UC Irvine pitching staff is paced by sophomore right-hander Andre Pallante (7-1, 1.31 ERA), junior righty Taylor Rashi (3-3, 3.02 ERA) and freshman right-hander Trenton Denholm (4-5, 4.79 ERA).
UC Irvine has 21 lettermen returning off last year's 23-33 squad that finished seventh in the Big West at 9-15. Among the returnees this year are four position starters and eight pitchers.
UC Irvine has qualified for the NCAA regionals 13 times (eight in Division I), compiling a 26-17 win-loss record in Division I postseason competition and qualifying for the College World Series in 2007 and 2014. The Anteaters, who discontinued baseball from 1993-2001, won the Big West title in 2009.
Gillespie was 763-471-4 in 20 seasons as head coach at USC (1987-2006) with five Pac-12 championships, five College World Series appearances, including the 1998 national title, and 15 regional appearances. He is one of only two men to both play for and coach an NCAA championship baseball team (Arizona State's Jerry Kindall is the other). Gillespie was head coach at College of the Canyons for 16 seasons with 11 conference titles and three state championships. He played left field on USC's 1961 national championship team.
Cal Poly and UC Irvine have met 51 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were Southern California Baseball Alliance members back in 1977. The Anteaters hold a 27-24 advantage, though the Mustangs have won two of three games each of the last two years. Cal Poly is 21-27 against UC Irvine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 20-25 against UC Irvine while Mike Gillespie is 18-14 against Cal Poly, including a 2-0 mark while at USC.
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 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 227 home games for a 72.4 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 in early March and traveled to Hawai'i for a three-game Big West series last weekend.
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 (505-389-2) reached the 500-victory milestone April 20 with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. He 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 wraps up its home schedule by hosting Pepperdine on Tuesday night and, next Friday through Sunday, entertaining UC Santa Barbara for a three-game Blue-Green Rivalry set (Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1 o'clock).