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Cal Poly to Visit UC Irvine for Key Big West Series This Weekend

Cal Poly to Visit UC Irvine for Key Big West Series This Weekend
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (23-23 overall, 12-3 Big West), off to a first-place 12-3 start in Big West play with sweeps over CSUN, UC Davis and Long Beach State, visits third-place UC Irvine (29-14, 10-5 Big West) for a key Big West Conference series this weekend. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Anteaters of first-year head coach Ben Orloff play Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 1 o'clock inside Anteater Ballpark (3,408).
All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio (1280 AM and 101.7 FM) with Chris Sylvester providing the play-by-play. First two games of the series also will be broadcast on with Trent Rush doing the play-by-play and Adam Kennedy (Friday) and Wes Clements (Saturday) providing color commentary. Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at
Cal Poly has won 21 of its last 35 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. The Mustangs won the middle game of their series against USC in late April and claimed two of three contests versus Hawai'i last weekend.

Anteater Notes

Coming off a 32-24 campaign, including a 13-11 mark for a third-place tie in the Big West, UC Irvine returned 20 letter winners, including four position starters and 10 pitchers. Top returnees are infielder Christian Koss (.287, 17 RBI in 2018), utility player Brendan Brooks (.308, 23 RBI), outfielder Konnor Zickefoose (.306, five home runs, 13 doubles, 27 RBI, second-team All-Big West) and outfielder Jake Palmer (.298, 17 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Andre Pallante (10-1, 1.60 ERA in 2018, first-team All-Big West), Jordan Bocko (5-2, 2.98 ERA, eight saves) and Trenton Denholm (4-8, 4.72 ERA).
UC Irvine jumped to a 21-5 start and was ranked in most polls after sweeping Long Beach State in early April. The Anteaters then lost to UCLA and were swept by UC Santa Barbara in an 0-4 week before winning six straight with a sweep of CSUN and a 2-1 series win at Cal State Fullerton for a 28-9 overall mark. UC Irvine has lost five of its last six games, losing twice in three games at Iowa last weekend and falling 4-1 at San Diego on Tuesday.
Forty-three games into the season under first-year head coach Ben Orloff (29-14, UC Irvine '09), the Anteaters are hitting .255 as a team with 29 steals in 37 attempts, a 3.60 staff ERA and a .979 fielding percentage with 33 errors. 
Top Anteater batters are third baseman Brandon Lewis (.337, 17 doubles, 12 home runs, 47 RBI), first baseman Adrian Damla (.306, 20 RBI) and left fielder Mike Peabody (.302, 10 doubles, 17 RBI). The pitching staff is paced by Pallante (7-4, 2.89 ERA), Tanner Brubaker (5-2, 2.39 ERA) and Denholm (7-3, 1.93 ERA), all right-handers. Taylor Rashi sports a 4-0 mark, 0.29 ERA and 11 saves as the Anteaters' closer.
UC Irvine has qualified for the NCAA regionals 13 times (eight in Division I), compiling a 26-17 win-loss record in Division I postseason competition and qualifying for the College World Series in 2007 and 2014. The Anteaters, who discontinued baseball from 1993-2001, won the Big West title in 2009.
Cal Poly and UC Irvine have met 54 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were Southern California Baseball Alliance members back in 1977. The Anteaters hold a 29-25 advantage, winning two of three games at Baggett Stadium a year ago. The Mustangs won two of three games in both 2016 and 2017. Cal Poly is 22-29 against UC Irvine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 21-27 against UC Irvine while Ben Orloff is facing Cal Poly for the first time as a head coach.
Orloff, a 2009 UC Irvine graduate and three-year All-American shortstop, was hired last July as the ninth head coach in Anteater program history. Orloff initially joined the coaching staff in 2014 as an assistant, rising to associate head coach in the five years since. He was the program's first Big West Player of the Year, won the 2009 Brooks Wallace Award and was also the first Anteater player to win an American Baseball Coaches Association Gold Glove award. 
Orloff, a lifetime .320 hitter at UC Irvine, also was named to two NCAA Tournament teams and helped UC Irvine to four post-season berths. He holds the NCAA single-season mark of 34 sacrifice bunts set in 2007 and in a career with 86. Orloff was drafted in the ninth round by the Houston Astros and climbed to Double-A Corpus Christi before moving into the coaching ranks. Orloff was also a participant in the World Baseball Classic in 2012 as a member of Team Israel.
Orloff replaced Mike Gillespie, who was 1,156-720-2 in 31 seasons as a college head coach — 20 years at USC and 11 more at UC Irvine. Gillespie was head coach at College of the Canyons for 16 seasons and played left field on USC's 1961 national championship team.

Mustang Morsels

Lee welcomed back 18 letter winners this spring, including five position players who made 25 or more starts in 2018, and eight pitchers, three of whom 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 .287 mark with a team-leading 30 RBI. He was 7-for-11 with four RBIs in two games against Pepperdine.
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 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 12 weeks into the 2019 season is freshman designated hitter Conagher Sands with a .351 average and a 20-game hitting streak, fourth-longest in Cal Poly's 25-year Division I history. He is followed by Samuelson with a .294 average and 29 RBI,  middle infielder Connor Gurnik at .283 with seven doubles and 15 RBI and sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene at .278 with four doubles and 16 RBI. 
Cal Poly's weekend rotation in the first eight weeks of the 2019 season consisted of senior righty Jarred Zill (2-5, 3.46 ERA), junior right-hander Bobby Ay (7-0, 3.24 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (2-5, 5.21 ERA). Zill has missed his last four starts due to injury with freshman southpaw Chase Watkins (0-1, 4.15 ERA) stepping in. Freshman Bryan Woo (1-2, 9.58 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.

That's a Wrap

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 four weeks ago with a 6-6 mark, will play 30 home games in all and have 10 contests scheduled 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 182 of their last 256 home games for a 71.2 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 (536-414-2) reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 536 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 996 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just four victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
Next week, Cal Poly visits No. 2 Stanford for a single game Tuesday before returning home to host UC Riverside for a three-game Big West series Friday through Sunday.