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Cal Poly Closes Out Home Schedule with Big West Series Against UCSB

Cal Poly Closes Out Home Schedule with Big West Series Against UCSB
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (24-27 overall, 9-9 Big West), which dropped into a fourth-place tie in the Big West Conference standings after winning just one of three games at home against UC Irvine over the weekend and rebounded with a 15-6 win over Pepperdine on Tuesday, concludes an eight-game home stand by hosting Blue-Green rival UC Santa Barbara (24-24-1, 8-10 Big West) for a three-game Big West Conference series this weekend inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138).
 
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Gauchos of sixth-year head coach Andrew Checketts square off Friday at 6 p.m. and 1 o'clock both Saturday and 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 fourth place with Hawai'i and Long Beach State in the Big West, all 9-9 and five games behind frontrunner Cal State Fullerton (14-4) with six games remaining for each team. CSUN is second at 12-9 and UC Irvine is third at 10-8. After hosting sixth-place UC Santa Barbara this weekend, the Mustangs visit eighth-place UC Riverside next weekend to close out the 2018 season.
 
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 Hawai'i. Cal Poly dropped 3-1 and 4-1 decisions sandwiching a 4-3 win against UC Irvine last weekend. Kyle Marinconz was 7-for-11 in the series while Alex McKenna went 8-for-13.
 
The Mustangs have earned a pair of walk-off wins, scoring the winning run on wild pitches each time. Junior catcher Nick Meyers scored on a wild pitch in the 10th inning for a 5-4 triumph against New Mexico on March 12 and the Mustangs 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.
 
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.
 
Junior center fielder Alex McKenna, a first-team All-Big West selection in 2017, lifted his batting average to a team-leading .347 with last week's 10-for-18 performance and two more hits against Pepperdine while junior catcher Nick Meyer, second-team All-Big West a year ago, went 5-for-6 against the Waves — Cal Poly's first five-hit game in five years — to improve his mark to .333. Meyer is 37-for-93 (.398) over his last 21 games while McKenna, who has hit .449 in 18 conference contests, leads the squad in doubles (14) and multiple-hit games (22). Sophomore second baseman Scott Ogrin has lifted his average 107 points over his last 23 games by going 30-for-89 (.337) with seven doubles, three triples, three home runs and 20 RBI. 
 
Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz, another first-team All-Big West honoree in 2017, sports a .307 mark with 13 doubles (nine in his last 14 games), four home runs and 27 RBI, elevating his average 72 points over the last 11 weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield and first three-hit game of the season Sunday against UC Irvine. Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson (pictured at left) is hitting .300 with 10 doubles, five home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 37 RBI. A second-team All-Big West honoree as a freshman in 2017, sophomore right fielder Bradlee Beesley, after a .139 start in the first nine games, has elevated his batting average 123 points to .262.
 
Among those with fewer than 102 at-bats, senior designated hitter Elijah Skipps is hitting .333 with eight doubles, four homers and 19 RBI in 21 games while senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick is hitting .317 with 13 RBI.
 
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .293, tops in the conference, by hitting .310 since and including a doubleheader sweep March 3 against Pacific.
 
Santa Barbara lost six of its first eight games and has been battling to get back to the .500 mark ever since. The Gauchos were 22-19-1 before losing the final game of the CSUN series May 6, the start of a five-game losing streak that was snapped with last Sunday's 3-2 triumph at Long Beach State and a 6-5 win over CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday. UCSB owns series wins over Penn State, San Jose State, Cal State Fullerton, Texas-Rio Grande Valley and UC Riverside, losing Big West series to UC Irvine, UC Davis, CSUN and Long Beach State.
 
Forty-nine games into the season under Checketts (228-163-4, Oregon State '98), UC Santa Barbara is hitting .260 as a team with 47 steals in 66 attempts, a 4.19 staff ERA and a .971 fielding percentage with 55 errors. Junior shortstop Clay Fisher leads the way offensively with a .314 average, 10 doubles, five triples, three home runs and 32 RBI. Junior catcher Thomas Rowan is next with a .304 mark, nine doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI, followed by sophomore outfielder Tommy Jew (.302, 10 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 39 RBI) and freshman second baseman Andrew Martinez (.280, seven doubles, six home runs, 26 RBI).
 
The UC Santa Barbara pitching staff is paced by senior Stevie Ledesma (6-2, 2.52 ERA),  sophomore Chris Lincoln (2-3, 3.30 ERA) and junior Chris Clements (1-1, 4.24 ERA), all right-handers. Freshman southpaw Jack Dashwood (2-6, 5.27 ERA) has started 11 games as well. The closer is sophomore righty Shea Berry with three saves and a 3.38 ERA.
 
UC Santa Barbara has 16 lettermen returning off last year's 24-32 squad that finished tied for eighth in the Big West at 8-16. Among the returnees this year are four position starters and a dozen pitchers.
 
UCSB claimed Big West titles in 1972 and 1986 and has qualified for the NCAA Division I regionals 10 times, including 2013, 2015 and 2016, compiling a 13-24 win-loss record in Division I postseason competition, including 6-2 in 2016 en route to regional and super regional triumphs and a berth in the College World Series.
 
Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara have met 226 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1942. The Gauchos hold a 119-107 advantage, winning two of three at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in 2015. Cal Poly swept the then-No. 9-ranked Gauchos in Baggett Stadium in 2016 and also swept UCSB a year ago in Santa Barbara by scores of 11-2, 7-4 and 9-2. Cal Poly hit .325 in last year's series for its only sweep of the 2017 season, Marinconz leading the way by going 9-for-15 with two doubles, a pair of home runs and six RBI. Nick Meyer was 6-for-12 with a double and triple while Elijah Skipps added a pair of three-run home runs in the series finale.
 
Cal Poly is 53-44 against UCSB since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 37-23 against UC Santa Barbara while Andrew Checketts is 7-15 against Cal Poly.
 
Checketts spent three seasons as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator under George Horton at Oregon before coming to UC Santa Barbara. He was on the UC Riverside staff for seven years and began his coaching career at Riverside Community College, where he served as pitching coach and helped the team to their second consecutive California State championship in 2001. Checketts played one season at Florida and three at Oregon State.
 
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 165 of their last 228 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 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 (507-391-2) 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.
 
Cal Poly wraps up the 2018 season next Thursday through Saturday at UC Riverside.