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Cal Poly Returns Home to Host USC for Three-Game Weekend Series

Cal Poly Returns Home to Host USC for Three-Game Weekend Series
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (19-18 overall, 10-2 Big West), which 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, continues a stretch of five non-conference contests this weekend by hosting USC (17-21-1 overall, 8-9-1 Pac-12) for a three-game series. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Trojans of seventh-year head coach Dan Hubbs square off Friday at 6 p.m. Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 o'clock inside Baggett Stadium (3,138).
All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio (1280 AM and 101.7 FM) with Chris Sylvester or Eric Burdick providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at
Cal Poly has won 17 of its last 26 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. The Mustangs were shut out for the third time this season Tuesday night at Santa Clara, 5-0.

Keeping Up with the Trojans

Coming off a 26-28 campaign, including a 12-18 mark for an eighth-place tie in the Pac-12, USC returned 24 letter winners, including seven position starters and 10 pitchers. Top returnees are catcher Kaleb Murphy (.333, eight RBI in 2018), catcher/outfielder Blake Sabol (.276, four home runs, 24 RBI) and outfielder Matthew Acosta (.263, three home runs, 26 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Kyle Hurt (4-5, 4.76 ERA in 2018) and Chris Clarke (2-7, 6.09 ERA) along with lefty Quentin Longrie (4-7, 5.79 ERA). The closer, righty Connor Lynn (2-2, 2.97 ERA, eight saves) also returns.
Coached by Hubbs (seventh season, 180-192-1, USC '93), USC has a .275 team batting average through 39 games. The Trojans have stolen 37 of 54 bases, sport a 4.56 staff ERA and have compiled a .970 fielding percentage with 45 errors in 39 games. The Trojans opened their 2019 season by losing 10 of their first 15 games, losing series against Arkansas and Grand Canyon. USC has won Pac-12 series versus Cal, Arizona State and Washington State but were swept by Washington and lost two of three games to Utah and UCLA. Last weekend, the Trojans earned 4-0 and 10-1 wins at home against Washington State. The finale ended in a 10-10 tie after 12 innings due to a travel curfew. USC fell 12-9 to UC Irvine on Tuesday night at Dedeaux Field.
Top Trojan hitters to date are infielder Ben Ramirez (.311, eight doubles, 17 RBI), Acosta (.310, six doubles, five homers, 27 RBI), outfielder Brady Shockey (.302, five doubles, 11 RBI) and catcher CJ Stubbs (.300, 10 doubles, five home runs, 23 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Connor Lunn (6-1, 2.30 ERA and Hurt (0-6, 6.80 ERA) along with lefty Isaac Esqueda (3-2, 3.14 ERA). Right-hander Chris Clarke has four saves, a 3-2 mark and 1.43 ERA.
USC's top national rankings include No. 21 with four shutouts, No. 45 in hits allowed per nine innings (8.08) and No. 44 in double plays turned (33).
USC has appeared in 41 regionals, the last time in 2015, compiling a 102-45 mark in postseason play. The Trojans have earned 12 national titles, including five in a row from 1968-72 and the last one in 1998, and have won 784 of 100 College World Series games. USC has claimed 38 conference titles, last capturing the Pac-12 title in 2002 under Mike Gillespie.
USC boasts many successful major leaguers such as Ron Fairly, Don Buford, Tom Seaver, Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn, Roy Smalley, Steve Kemp, Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, Bret and Aaron Boone, Jeff Cirillo, Barry Zito, Geoff Jenkins and Mark Prior. In all, Trojans have been drafted 333 times, with a national-best 111 Trojans having played in the major leagues.
Hubbs, associate head coach at USC in 2012, was elevated to head coach on Feb. 13, 2013, the sixth head baseball coach at USC since 1930. Hubbs, who spent 12 seasons as the pitching coach at Cal before coming to USC, was a three-year (1991-93) letterman at USC and currently ranks fourth on the Trojans' career saves list (22) and eighth on the career strikeouts-per-inning chart (9.19). He posted a career record of 19-13 with a 3.58 ERA in 81 appearances (64 in relief).
Cal Poly and USC have played 32 baseball games against each other since the series began in 1953. The Trojans hold a 25-7 advantage, claiming two of three games against the Mustangs in March 2015 inside Baggett Stadium. Larry Lee is 4-10 against USC while Hubbs is 3-2 against Cal Poly.

Mustang Notes

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 .279 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 .299 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, is hitting .279 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.

Final Thoughts

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 (532-409-2) 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.
Next week, Cal Poly visits Fresno State on Tuesday and hosts Hawai'i for a three-game set May 3-5.
Photo courtesy of Owen Main |