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Cal Poly Concludes 2018 Baseball Season at UC Riverside This Weekend

Cal Poly Concludes 2018 Baseball Season at UC Riverside This Weekend
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (27-27 overall, 12-9 Big West), which swept UC Santa Barbara in a three-game Big West series for the third straight year and climbed into a second-place tie with UC Irvine in the conference standings, wraps up the 2018 baseball season this weekend by visiting UC Riverside (19-30, 7-14 Big West) for a three-game Big West series at the Riverside Sports Complex (cap.: 2,500).
 
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Highlanders of fourth-year head coach Troy Percival square off Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. and 1 o'clock on Saturday. All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 with Chris Sylvester providing the play-by-play. The last two games also will be broadcast on ESPN3 and WatchESPN. Trent Rush will do the play-by-play Friday and Rahshaun Haylock will call the action Saturday. Analyst for both contests is John Jackson.
 
Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
 
Cal State Fullerton clinched the Big West title outright by winning two of three games at home against CSUN last weekend. Cal Poly, seeking an above-.500 finish overall and its second straight runner-up finish in the Big West, is tied for second place with UC Irvine, both 12-9, while CSUN is fourth at 13-11, Long Beach State fifth at 11-10 and Hawai'i sixth at 10-11.
 
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. 
 
After losing two of three games at home against UC Irvine, Cal Poly bounced back with its third consecutive series sweep against UC Santa Barbara, also inside Baggett Stadium. Scores were 5-3, 4-2 and 9-3. The Mustangs erupted for four runs in the first inning of the opener, highlighted by a two-run double from Elijah Skipps, and held on. Nick Meyer sliced a two-run double down the right-field line to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning of the middle game and Kyle Marinconz smashed a three-run double off the right-field wall in the fourth inning to break open the finale.
 
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, sports a team-leading .339 batting average after going 10-for-18 two weeks ago 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 — and 4-for-11 versus UC Santa Barbara to improve his mark to .335 and earn Big West Field Player of the Week honors. Meyer is 41-for-104 (.394) over his last 24 games while McKenna, who has hit .416 in 21 conference contests, leads the squad in doubles (14) and multiple-hit games (22). Sophomore second baseman Scott Ogrin (pictured at left) has lifted his average 109 points over his last 26 games to .283 by going 33-for-99 (.333) with eight doubles, three triples, three home runs and 22 RBI. 
 
Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz, another first-team All-Big West honoree in 2017, sports a .302 mark with 14 doubles (10 in his last 17 games), four home runs and 30 RBI, elevating his average 67 points over the last 12 weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield. Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .292 with 10 doubles, five home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 38 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 135 points to .274. Left fielder Josh George (pictured above), hitting .227 through April 21, has bumped his average up to .295 over his last 14 games by going 14-for-30 (.467).
 
Among those with fewer than 108 at-bats, senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick is hitting .314 with 13 RBI while senior designated hitter Elijah Skipps is hitting .313 with nine doubles, four homers and 19 RBI in 24 games.
 
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 .308 since and including a doubleheader sweep March 3 against Pacific.
 
UC Riverside compiled a 13-11 record six weeks into the 2018 season, including a 3-1 start in Big West games, before losing the final two games of its series at home against CSUN and falling back. The Highlanders have lost 19 of their last 25 contests and has not won a series since taking two of three games against UC Davis in late March. UC Riverside earned a series win over Utah of the Pac-12 earlier in March.
 
Forty-nine games into the season under Percival (82-131, UC Riverside '91), UC Riverside is hitting .260 as a team with 22 steals in 39 attempts, a 5.24 staff ERA and a .964 fielding percentage with 67 errors. Catcher Tony Gudino leads the way offensively with a .310 average and eight doubles. Shortstop Colby Schultz is next at .309 with 12 doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI while left fielder Matt Hardy and middle infielder Justin Mannens both own .306 marks, Hardy driving in 31 runs. Designated hitter Connor Cannon leads the Highlanders with his nine home runs and 32 RBI while hitting .273.
 
The UC Riverside pitching staff is paced by freshman Cole Percival (5-4, 3.32 ERA), sophomore Trenton Toplikar (6-3, 4.22 ERA) and senior Johnny Breidenthal (2-2, 8.51 ERA), all right-handers. Senior righty Jared Morton (5) and junior southpaw Hazahel Quijada (4) have combined for nine saves.
 
The pitching rotation for this weekend's series:
 
Thursday -- LHP Trent Shelton (CP) (5-3, 3.42 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Hardy (UCR) (0-1, 10.12 ERA)
Friday -- RHP Darren Nelson (CP) (4-4, 5.14 ERA) vs. RHP Trenton Toplikar (UCR) (6-3, 4.22 ERA)
Saturday -- RHP Michael Clark (CP) (4-6, 5.79 ERA) vs. RHP Cole Percival (UCR) (5-4, 3.32 ERA)
 
UC Riverside has 19 lettermen returning off last year's 22-32 squad that finished tied for eighth in the Big West at 8-16. Among the returnees this year are seven position starters and nine pitchers.
 
UC Riverside, a member of the Big West since 2002, claimed the Big West title in 2007 and has qualified for the NCAA Division I regionals twice -- in 2003 and 2007. The Highlanders also earned NCAA Division II playoff berths nine times, capturing the national title in both 1977 and 1982.
 
Percival, who replaced Doug Smith on July 29, 2014, was a catcher during his three years with the Highlanders and was drafted after his junior year by the California Angels in the sixth round of the 1990 Amateur Draft. Following a year as a catcher in the minors, Percival was converted to a relief pitcher, and during his rookie season of 1995, he finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, going 3-2 with three saves and a 1.95 ERA, striking out 94 batters in 74.0 innings. The Angels made him their full-time closer in 1996, and he rewarded them by recording 36 saves and striking out 100 batters in 74.0 innings. Percival earned his first of four All-Star nods that season as he finished fourth in the league in saves. By the time his professional career ended in 2009, Percival had 358 saves on his big-league résumé, ninth on Major League Baseball's all-time career list.
 
Since his retirement from major league baseball, Percival worked as a volunteer pitching coach for Riverside Poly High School in Riverside (2010-12), and as head coach at his high school alma mater, Moreno Valley High School (2013-14). He also spent a year working in the Angels organization as a roving pitching instructor.
 
Cal Poly and UC Riverside have met 198 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1970. The Mustangs hold a 113-85 advantage, defeating the Highlanders twice in three games at Baggett Stadium in 2017 with 1-0 an 5-0 shutouts before falling in the finale 4-0. Cal Poly swept the Highlanders in 2012, 2013 and 2015 and is 16-5 against UC Riverside over the last seven years and 31-20 since moving to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 28-17 against UC Riverside while Troy Percival is 3-6 against Cal Poly.
 
Cal Poly played 16 games against 2017 NCAA Regional participants this spring, had a pair of home stands of at least seven games, 30 home games in all and 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 168 of their last 231 home games for a 72.7 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 (510-391-2) 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.