Posted: Apr 22, 2019
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (19-17 overall, 10-2 Big West), which has opened Big West Conference play by sweeping CSUN at home and UC Davis and Long Beach State on the road en route to a half-game lead over UC Santa Barbara, steps away from conference play for its next five contests, beginning with a single game Tuesday night at Santa Clara (8-29 overall, 2-13 West Coast). Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Broncos of second-year head coach Rusty Filter square off at 6 p.m. inside Stephen Schott Stadium (1,500).
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 www.GoPoly.com.
Cal Poly has won 17 of its last 25 games after a 2-9 start, sweeping Columbia in a four-game series, splitting four games versus Saint Mary's and opening Big West play by sweeping CSUN, losing two of three versus Cal State Fullerton and sweeping UC Davis and Long Beach State on the road. Scores against the Dirtbags were 4-2, 7-1 and 5-4, the Mustangs winning a series at Blair Field for the first time since 2009 and sweeping Long Beach State for the second straight year and the first at Long Beach in 22 years.
Coming off a 26-26 campaign, including a 12-15 mark for a sixth-place tie in the West Coast Conference, Santa Clara returned 20 letter winners, including four position starters and 11 pitchers.
Top returnees are second baseman Jason Dicochea (.323, 25 RBI in 2018), catcher Jake MacNichols (.226, 32 RBI) and outfielder Matt Smithwick (.225, 5 home runs, 15 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Travis Howard (3-2, 5.03 ERA in 2018), Freddie Erlandson (4-5, 5.18 ERA) and Michael Praszker (2-2, 4.09 ERA).
Coached by Rusty Filter (second season, 34-55, San Diego State '90), Santa Clara has a .217 team batting average through 37 games with 25 home runs. The Broncos have stolen 27 of 43 bases, sport a 4.40 staff ERA and have compiled a .959 fielding percentage with 59 errors in 37 games.
Santa Clara lost 21 of its first 25 games before defeating Cal Poly 7-6 in 10 innings on April 2 inside Baggett Stadium. The Broncos had lost 17 of 18 — the lone win a 9-0 shutout over UC Davis on March 26 — before making their trip to San Luis Obispo and winning on a safety squeeze bunt by Blake Faddoul. Santa Clara is 2-13 in West Coast Conference games with single wins over Pepperdine and Gonzaga. The Broncos have been swept by Loyola Marymount, San Francisco and Pacific in conference contests.
Santa Clara's top hitters to date are catcher Tony Boetto (.278, four doubles, 10 RBI) and Dicochea (.262. four doubles, four home runs, 18 RBI).
Scheduled to start on the mound Tuesday night for Cal Poly is sophomore southpaw Andrew Alvarez (1-0, 4.87 ERA) (pictured above), who made one appearance in the Long Beach State series, entering the bottom of the ninth inning of the series finale with the bases loaded and nobody out. He struck out the only batter he faced before Taylor Dollard struck out the final two Dirtbag hitters to preserve the 5-4 victory.
Santa Clara will go with sophomore right-hander Brandon Buckley (0-0, 0.90 ERA).
Santa Clara has finished first in the West Coast Conference four times, the last in 2001. The Broncos are in their 137th year of competition in baseball, earning 2,281 wins with 12 NCAA regional appearances (the last in 1997) and one trip to the College World Series (1962).
Filter was pitching coach under Mark Marquess at Stanford for eight seasons before taking over for Dan O'Brien at Santa Clara in June 2017. He helped the Cardinal reach the NCAA Tournament five times, including three trips to the Super Regional, and developed 20 pitchers who were selected in the MLB Draft.
In 16 seasons as an assistant coach under Jim Dietz and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at his alma mater, Filter mentored 58 draft picks, including two top overall picks in the Major League draft, Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and Mark Appel in 2013. Filter played at San Diego State from 1987-90, originally as a catcher before moving to the mound, and was drafted by Toronto in 1990.
Cal Poly and Santa Clara have played 88 baseball games against each other since the series began in 1956. The Broncos hold a 46-42 advantage, winning both contests a year ago by scores of 10-7 and 4-3 in addition to the April 2 matchup in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly won both meetings in 2017—11-7 at Santa Clara and 15-0 in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly has won eight of the last 13 meetings. Larry Lee is 19-18 against Santa Clara while Rusty Filter is 3-0 against Cal Poly.
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. After hitting .517 in the first seven games this season, Beesley has cooled off, sporting a .283 mark with a team-leading 24 RBI.
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, likely will miss the 2019 season with a foot 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).
Leading the team 10 weeks into the 2019 season is sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene at .303 with three doubles and 14 RBI. Samuelson is hitting .283 with 18 RBI and Gurnik, who had a four-hit game two weeks ago against Santa Clara and is hitting .280 with six doubles and 13 RBI.
Cal Poly's weekend rotation in the first eight weeks of the 2019 season consisted of senior righty Jarred Zill (2-5, 3.54 ERA), junior right-hander Bobby Ay (5-0, 2.62 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (2-5, 5.18 ERA). Zill has missed his last two starts due to injury with freshman southpaw Chase Watkins (0-1, 3.63 ERA) stepping in. Freshman Bryan Woo (1-2, 11.25 ERA), also a right-hander, pitched five innings for the win against Columbia on March 9, was Cal Poly's fourth starter in a pair of four-game series and also has started two midweek games.
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, wrapped up a 12-game home stand two weeks ago with a 6-6 mark, will play 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 179 of their last 249 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 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 made 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 (532-408-2) reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 532 wins to date are No. 2 in the conference behind Fresno State's Bob Bennett (547) and, during the UC Davis series, Lee surpassed Cal Poly alum and former Long Beach State head coach Dave Snow with his 219th conference win. Snow guided the Dirtbags to 218 Big West wins from 1989-2001.
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 992 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just eight victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
With the bye in the Big West schedule this week, the Mustangs will host USC for a three-game series Friday through Sunday inside Baggett Stadium. Game times are Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 o'clock.
Photo of Aldrew Alvarez courtesy of Owen Main | www.fansmanship.com