Cal Poly to Host Ivy League’s Columbia for Four-Game Series

Cal Poly to Host Ivy League’s Columbia for Four-Game Series
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-9 overall, 0-0 Big West), which is still in search of its first weekend wins of the year following sweeps by Oklahoma, Cal and Washington, continues its 30-game home schedule this weekend with a four-game non-conference series against the Ivy League's Columbia Lions (0-4 overall, 0-0 Ivy) inside Baggett Stadium. 
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Lions of 14th-year head coach Brett Boretti square off Friday at 6 p.m., followed by a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday and noon on Sunday. Three of the four games of the series (the exception is the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader due to men's basketball) 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
Coming off a 20-30 campaign, including a 13-8 mark for second place in the Ivy League's regular season standings, Columbia returns 23 letter winners, including eight position starters and eight pitchers. Top returnees are catcher Liam McGill (.320, 31 RBI in 2018), infielder Joe Engel (.306, 29 RBI) and first baseman Chandler Bengston (.257, 10 home runs, 31 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Jordan Chriss (2-7, 6.45 ERA in 2018) and southpaws Ben Wereski (3-4, 6.49 ERA) and Josh Simpson (4-3, 4.02 ERA in 2017), a redshirt due to injury a year ago.
Columbia twice defeated Yale in the 2018 Ivy League playoffs to earn a berth in the NCAA's Gainesville Regional, where the Lions lost to Florida and Florida Atlantic. Columbia has won 14 Ivy League titles and has made six NCAA postseason appearances, including four trips in the last six years. The Lions, who started playing baseball in 1888, have played 3,167 games, compiling a 1,397-1,741-29 overall record, and have made NCAA regional appearances in 1976, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018.
Located in New York City, Columbia opened its 2019 season last weekend by dropping four games at Oklahoma by scores of 12-3, 9-1, 9-0 and 6-2. The Lions hit just .194 as a team, did not steal a base, compiled a 9.84 staff ERA and committed two errors for a .985 fielding percentage.
Since his arrival at Columbia in July 2005, Boretti has revitalized the Columbia baseball program in every aspect, building the Lions into a perennial Ivy League contender. Under his leadership, Boretti has led the Lions to six Gehrig Division titles, five Ivy League championships, a number of wins over major programs and four NCAA Tournament victories. He has also been honored as Ivy League Coach of the Year twice (2015, 2018) and ABCA Northeast Region Coach of the Year in 2015. A total of 32 Lions have earned first-team All-Ivy League honors under Boretti.
Cal Poly and Columbia met for five games in 2001 in San Luis Obispo, the Mustangs winning all five by scores of 3-2, 5-4, 8-2, 5-1 and 4-3. All five games were played in San Luis Obispo Stadium.
Columbia's alumni includes Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Eddie Collins. Lions currently in the Major Leagues are Dario Pizzano (New York Mets) and David Speer (Cleveland Indians).
Cal Poly's only wins so far in 2019 are a pair of midweek triumphs against Central California rival and future Big West Conference member CSU Bakersfield — 7-1 in Bakersfield on Feb. 19 and a 2-0 shutout in Baggett Stadium on Feb. 26.
Lee welcomed back 18 letter winners this spring, including five position players who made 25 or more starts in 2018, and eight pitchers, including three who have made 10 or more career starts.
The list of veterans is led by junior center fielder Bradlee Beesley, who hit .277 with 12 doubles and 33 RBI a year ago, was a second-team All-Big West selection in 2017 after hitting .305 and also had a solid Cape Cod League season with Yarmouth-Dennis last summer, hitting .368.
Beesley went 7-for-12 (.583) in the Oklahoma series with three RBI and 6-for-13 with a double and one RBI versus Cal. The junior from San Leandro, Calif., was hitting .517 seven games into the season before cooling off and currently sports a .356 average with four doubles and 10 RBI. Middle infielder Connor Gurnik is hitting .345 while sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene has a .311 average with five RBI and just two strikeouts in 50 plate appearances.
In addition to Beesley, also returning are sophomore first baseman Tate Samuelson (.280, five home runs, 38 RBI in 2018), senior shortstop Dylan Doherty and sophomore third baseman Nick DiCarlo, both .226 hitters a year ago. Junior utility player Scott Ogrin, who hit .266 with 26 RBI last spring, will  miss at least the first three weeks of the 2019 season with an injury.
The pitching corps is led by sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (5-4, 4.79 ERA in 2018), senior righty Jarred Zill (0-1, 3.00 ERA in five starts a year ago), who missed most of both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to injury, and junior right-hander Bobby Ay (1-6, 5.40 ERA in 2017, made just one appearance in 2018 before he was sidelined with an injury).
Cal Poly fell to Oklahoma 4-1, 9-3 and 5-2 amid temperatures in the 30s and low 40s with winds at around 20 miles per hour, dropping the wind chill factor into the 20s. Beesley went 7-for-12 at the plate with two doubles and five singles, knocking in three runs.
Two weeks ago, Cal Poly dropped 10-2, 5-4 and 5-3 decisions to Cal inside Baggett Stadium. The Mustangs and Bears were tied 2-2 after two innings Friday and held leads of 4-2 after five innings Saturday and 3-0 after seven innings Sunday, but 2018 Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Vaughn (two-run home run in third inning Friday, two-run single in seventh inning Saturday) and catcher Korey Lee (two-run double in eighth inning, two-run single in ninth inning Sunday) keyed Cal's comebacks.
Cal Poly dropped 9-3, 11-7 and 5-0 decisions at Washington last weekend, hitting just .214 and surrendering 7.88 earned runs per game. Connor Gurnik, Nick DiCarlo and Elijah Greene each produced four hits and one RBI.
A year ago, the Mustangs were No. 1 in the Big West in team hitting, on-base percentage, hits, doubles, triples, walks and turning double plays. Twenty of Cal Poly's 24 Big West games were decided by four or fewer runs. The Mustangs defeated UC Davis 16-0 and the three remaining games were six-run decisions, Cal Poly winning twice, and the Mustangs won six of 13 weekend series, sweeping Dartmouth, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside.
Including this season, the Mustangs have been tormented by slow starts — 3-11 before finishing 28-28 (won seven of last nine games) in 2017, 6-10 before wrapping up the 2018 campaign 30-27 (winning their final seven contests), and 2-9 so far this year. Cal Poly also opened the 2015 season 7-14 but rallied to finish 27-27 (winning 17 of its last 26 games).
Cal Poly will play 17 games against 2018 NCAA Regional participants this spring, has a 12-game home stand in late March and early April, 30 home games in all and will play 10 contests against Pac-12 schools — three-game series against Cal and USC at home and versus College World Series participant Washington and a single game against Stanford on the road. The Mustangs' first three series on the road this season — at Oklahoma, Washington and Baylor — are against teams that earned regional berths a year ago along with Cal State Fullerton, Saint Mary's and Stanford.
Cal Poly has had just three losing seasons since 2000 and has reached the 30-win mark 12 times this century. The Mustangs have won 169 of their last 235 home games for a 71.9 winning percentage.
Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, captured its first Big West championship in 2014 and has five second-place finishes, four thirds and six fourths since becoming a member of the conference in 1997. Cal Poly has finished in the top five of the Big West standings 14 times in Lee's previous 16 seasons with the Mustangs. Cal State Fullerton is the only other Big West team that can make the same claim.
While all 56 Mustang games in 2017 were played in the Golden State, Cal Poly played four games in a tournament at Surprise, Ariz., visited Nebraska for a four-game series and traveled to Hawai'i for a three-game Big West series in 2018. In addition to Oklahoma and Washington, the Mustangs make another out-of-state trip to Baylor this spring.
Over the last seven seasons from 2012-18, Cal Poly has won 240 games, the third-highest total among the 24 California schools with Division I programs. Averaging 35 wins per season during those seven campaigns, the victory total is eighth 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 (515-400-2) reached the 500-victory milestone last April 20 with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 515 wins to date are No. 2 in the conference behind Fresno State's Bob Bennett (547) and Lee's 212 conference wins also are No. 2 in the Big West behind Long Beach State's Dave Snow (218).
Lee 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 notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13, 2017 against Gonzaga. With 975 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just 25 victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
Next week, Cal Poly plays a midweek game Tuesday at Pepperdine before visiting nationally ranked Baylor for a three-game series Friday through Sunday in Waco, Texas.