Posted: Apr 29, 2019
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (20-20 overall, 10-2 Big West), off to a 10-2 start in Big West play with sweeps over CSUN, UC Davis and Long Beach State, concludes a stretch of five non-conference contests Tuesday night by visiting Fresno State (26-13-1 overall, 12-7-1 Mountain West) for a single game. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Bulldogs of 17th-year head coach Mike Batesole square off at 6:05 p.m. inside Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium (3,500).
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 18 of its last 29 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. Last weekend, the Mustangs won the middle game of their series against USC, 9-6, as junior right-hander Bobby Ay improved to 6-0 on the year and Tate Samuelson and Nick DiCarlo each had three-hit games.
Coming off a 30-24 campaign, including a 13-17 mark for fifth place in the Mountain West Conference, Fresno State returned 18 letter winners, including five position starters and eight pitchers. Top returnees are center fielder Zach Ashford (.352, 24 RBI, seven steals in 2018), second baseman Nolan Dempsey (.307, 22 RBI) and catcher Carter Bins (.301, seven home runs, 39 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-hander Ryan Jensen (2-2, 5.35 ERA in 2018) and southpaws Nikoh Mitchell (4-3, 3.28 ERA) and Jaime Arias (5-1, 3.69 ERA).
Coached by Batesole (17th season, 569-438-1 at Fresno State; 825-596-1 overall in 24 years; Cal State Fullerton '90), Fresno State has a .291 team batting average through 40 games. The Bulldogs have stolen 34 of 50 bases, sport a 3.81 staff ERA and have compiled a .966 fielding percentage with 50 errors in 40 games.
The Bulldogs were 10-5 with a series win over Utah Valley and a 3-0 mark in the Tony Gwynn Legacy at San Diego State but dropped two of three Mountain West games to UNLV and San Jose State. Since then, Fresno State has won 16 of 23 contests. A seven-game winning streak was snapped by New Mexico, 8-2, last Saturday and the two teams battled to a 6-6 draw called after nine innings Sunday due to a travel curfew.
Top Bulldog hitters to date are Ashford with a .377 average and 14 RBI, third baseman McCarthy Tatum (.337, 11 doubles, nine home runs, 53 RBI) and shortstop JT Arruda (.320). Scheduled to start on the mound Tuesday for Fresno State is junior right-hander Nic Cardinal (2-0, 3.00 ERA).
The Bulldogs' top national rankings are No. 29 in sacrifice bunts (31), No. 40 in strikeouts per nine innings (9.3), No. 41 in ERA (3.81), No. 43 in batting average (.291) and No. 48 in winning percentage (.663). Individually, Ryan Jensen's seven wins are No. 18, Jaime Arias' nine saves are No. 22, Zach Ashford is 39th in on-base percentage (.487) and 46th in runs scored per game (1.13) and McCarthy Tatum is No. 19 in RBIs (53).
Fresno State has made 33 NCAA tournament appearances, including four in the College World Series and capturing the national title in 2008. The 2016 Mountain West regular season title was Fresno State's 35th conference championship but the first since 2012.
Batesole, who coached at CSUN for seven years prior to becoming coach of the Bulldogs in 2003, is a two-time National Coach of the Year. His Bulldogs won seven straight conference titles from 2006-12 and made six NCAA appearances in that time, advancing to the regional title game three times before winning the national championship in 2008.
Under Batesole, Fresno State produced its fourth straight 30-win season in 2018 and Batesole has produced a total of 77 players who have been selected in the annual Major League Baseball draft during his previous 16 years at the helm.
During his tenure at CSUN from 1996-2002, the Matadors captured a Western Athletic Conference (1996) and Big West Conference title (2002). The Matadors made two NCAA Tournament appearances under Batesole and his record of 256-158-1 at Northridge ranks him second all-time in program history. His .620 winning percentage also ranks as the best ever in school history. In Batesole's seven years at CSUN, 37 of his players made it to the professional ranks.
A graduate of Garden Grove High School, Batesole played collegiately at Oral Roberts at third base and spent four seasons playing professionally in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system from 1985-88.
Cal Poly and Fresno State, which didn't play each other in 2018, are meeting for the 184th time Tuesday night including a 16-6 triumph on April 7 in which the Bulldogs erupted for 10 runs in the third inning to turn around a 4-0 deficit. The Bulldogs won both midweek games in 2017 and own a 116-67 advantage.
In 2005 Cal Poly swept Fresno State in a three-game series for the first time in the then-60-year history of the rivalry and duplicated the feat opening the 2006 campaign in Baggett Stadium and again in 2007 at Beiden Field. The Mustangs have won 22 of their last 31 games against the Bulldogs, including three of five games during Fresno State's national championship season in 2008.
Lee is 24-11 against Fresno State while Batesole sports a 20-29 mark against Cal Poly, including a 9-5 record while he was at CSUN.
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 .272 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).
Nelson (pictured above) will make the start Tuesday night at Fresno State.
Leading the team 11 weeks into the 2019 season is sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene at .296 with three doubles and 14 RBI. Samuelson is hitting .290 with 22 RBI and Gurnik, who had a four-hit game three weeks ago against Santa Clara, is hitting .282 with seven 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 (6-0, 3.28 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (2-5, 5.18 ERA). Zill has missed his last three starts due to injury with freshman southpaw Chase Watkins (0-1, 3.38 ERA) stepping in. Freshman Bryan Woo (1-2, 11.57 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 three 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 180 of their last 252 home games for a 71.4 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 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 (533-411-2) reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 533 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 993 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just seven victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
Cal Poly hosts Hawai'i for a three-game Big West set Friday through Sunday.