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Cal Poly Kicks Off Four-Game Baseball Road Trip Tuesday at Pepperdine

Cal Poly Kicks Off Four-Game Baseball Road Trip Tuesday at Pepperdine
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (6-9 overall, 0-0 Big West), coming off a four-game weekend series sweep against Ivy League member Columbia, including three one-run decisions, goes back out on the road for its next four games, beginning Tuesday afternoon versus Pepperdine (6-6 overall, 0-0 West Coast) at Eddy D. Field Stadium (cap.: 1,800). 
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Waves of fourth-year head coach Rick Hirtensteiner square off at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN Radio (1280 AM and 101.7 FM) 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 31-24 campaign, including a 17-10 mark for first place in the West Coast Conference's regular season standings, Pepperdine returns 28 letter winners, including seven position starters and 13 pitchers. Top returnees are utility player Brandt Belt (.316, 18 RBI in 2018) and outfielders Matt Kanfer (.312, five home runs, 29 RBI) and Cory Wills (.291, five home runs, 24 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Jonathan Pendergast (7-6, 2.51 ERA in 2018), Cooper Chandler (5-3, 4.14 ERA) and Christian Stoutland (4-4, 4.20 ERA).
Pepperdine went 2-2 in the West Coast Conference Tournament a year ago in Stockton, falling 17-2 to Gonzaga in the championship game.
After a 3-6 start this spring which included two losses each at Vanderbilt and against UC Santa Barbara, the Waves swept UC Davis in a three-game series at home last weekend by scores of 1-0, 15-3 and 4-0. Pepperdine has had four games postponed due to rain and one other contest at Vanderbilt was canceled. 
Tuesday's starter for Cal Poly will be freshman southpaw Chase Watkins (0-1, 4.50 ERA), who will face Pepperdine senior righty Christian Stoutland (1-1, 4.38 ERA).
Hirtensteiner (fourth season, 86-86, Pepperdine '89), a four-year standout at Pepperdine who earned All-American honors as a senior in 1989, was an assistant at Pepperdine for 17 seasons before replacing Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor) prior to the 2016 campaign.
A regional qualifier for the 28th time in 2015 and 1992 College World Series champion, Pepperdine has appeared in one Super Regional (Fort Worth in 2014) and two College World Series. The Waves won the 2015 West Coast Conference postseason tournament in Stockton and went 2-2 in the Fullerton Regional.
This year, Pepperdine is hitting .267, led by shortstop Quincy McAfee (.413, six doubles, nine RBI), third baseman Aharon Modlin (.360) and second baseman Wyatt Young (.308). The Waves have stolen 11 of 16 bases, sport a 3.06 staff ERA and have committed 12 errors in 12 games for a .973 fielding percentage.
Cal Poly and Pepperdine have met 64 times in baseball since the series began in 1947. The Waves hold a 38-26 advantage. The two teams have split a pair of midweek games each of the last five years. Pepperdine also earned 2-1 and 10-6 wins over the Mustangs in the 2014 San Luis Obispo Regional.
Cal Poly is 16-23 against Pepperdine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 13-16 against his alma mater while Rick Hirtensteiner is 3-3 versus Cal Poly.
Prior to last weekend's sweep against Columbia, Cal Poly's only wins in 2019 were 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. The Mustangs were swept in weekend series by Oklahoma, Cal and Washington.
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 .323 average with five doubles, a triple and 12 RBI. Middle infielder Connor Gurnik is hitting .326 while sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene has a team-leading .328 average with two doubles, seven RBI and just five strikeouts in 69 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).
Last weekend against Columbia, the Mustangs hit .284 with eight doubles, their first three triples of the year and Samuelson hit the team's initial home run of 2019, a two-run shot to left field that tied Sunday's series finale at 2-2. Samuelson's groundout in the fifth drove in the go-ahead run in a 5-4 victory, the third one-run triumph in the series for the Mustangs. Cal Poly won the first three games by 3-2, 2-1 (12 innings) and 13-6 scores. Greene's six hits, including a double, paced the Mustangs in the series. Cal Poly is now 9-0 all-time against the Lions.
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 prior to the Columbia series sweep. 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 — were 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 173 of their last 239 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 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 (519-400-2) reached the 500-victory milestone last April 20 with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 519 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 979 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just 21 victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
Cal Poly concludes this week's four-game road trip by visiting nationally ranked Baylor (10-4 prior to Wednesday's home game against Abilene Christian) for a three-game series Friday through Sunday in Waco, Texas. The Bears are ranked No. 27 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and 28th by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after losing two of three games against Nebraska last weekend at home.
Photo above of Connor Gurnik courtesy of Owen Main |