Posted: May 13, 2019
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (24-25 overall, 13-5 Big West), second in the Big West Conference with sweeps over CSUN, UC Davis and Long Beach State, visits No. 3 Stanford (37-9, 19-5 Pac-12) for the Mustangs' final non-conference game of the season Tuesday night. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Cardinal of second-year head coach David Esquer clash in a 6:05 p.m. start inside Sunken Diamond (4,000).
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 22 of its last 38 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, claimed two of three contests versus Hawai'i two weeks ago and earned one win in three games at UC Irvine last weekend.
Coming off a 46-12 campaign, including a 22-8 mark for a first-place finish in the Pac-12, Stanford returned 22 letter winners, including six position starters and 10 pitchers. Top returnees are utility players Tim Tawa (.296, seven home runs, 41 RBI in 2018) and Andrew Daschbach (.287, 17 homers, 63 RBI) and outfielder Kyle Stowers (.286, 10 home runs, 42 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-hander Brendan Beck (8-0, 2.43 ERA in 2018) and southpaw Erik Miller (4-4, 4.07 ERA). Closer Jack Little (3-0, 0.60 ERA, 16 saves) also returns.
Stanford has been ranked in the top 10 in most polls all season long and currently is No. 3 behind UCLA and Vanderbilt. The Cardinal compiled an 11-game winning streak until losing the final two games of its series against UCLA. Since those two losses, Stanford has won 17 of 21 games and the Cardinal are tied with UCLA and Oregon State atop the Pac-12 standings, all with 19-5 marks and six conference games remaining in the regular season. Stanford owns series sweeps against Utah, Washington State, Washington and Oregon.
Forty-six games into the season under second-year head coach David Esquer (83-21 at Stanford, 608-488-2 overall, Stanford '87), the Cardinal is hitting .279 as a team with 49 steals in 69 attempts, a 3.42 staff ERA and a .977 fielding percentage with 39 errors.
Top Stanford batters are designated hitter Will Matthiessen (.327, 10 doubles, nine home runs, 41 RBI), second baseman Duke Kinamon (.314, 10 doubles, six homers, 26 RBI, 11 steals) and three other players hitting from .290 to .299 (catcher Maverick Handley .299, first baseman Andrew Daschbach .296 with 11 homers and 35 RBI and Stowers .290 with 14 doubles, seven homers and 29 RBI). The pitching staff is paced by right-hander Brendan Beck (4-3, 3.23 ERA) and southpaws Erik Miller (7-1, 2.40 ERA) and Jacob Palisch (2-1, 4.86 ERA). Closer Jack Little has eight saves, a 3-1 mark and 2.84 ERA.
Freshman right-hander Alex Williams (6-1, 2.72 ERA) will start Tuesday on the mound for Stanford, facing Cal Poly sophomore righty Darren Nelson (2-5, 5.10 ERA).
Stanford's storied baseball history includes two College World Series titles (back-to-back in 1987 and 1988), 16 CWS appearances, 31 NCAA Regional berths, 18 conference titles, 84 winning seasons in 125 years, six 50-plus win seasons, 64 All-Americans, 33 U.S. National Team members, seven Olympians and 27 Major League Baseball first-round picks.
Stanford owns a 47-6 advantage in its series against Cal Poly. Last meeting was in 2017, a 5-2 Cardinal victory in Palo Alto. Prior to that, the teams last met in 2011, a 3-1 Mustang victory, also at Sunken Diamond. The Cardinal and Mustangs also played the first game inside Baggett Stadium on Jan. 21, 2001, Cal Poly claiming a 6-5 victory in 12 innings.
Esquer is the 21st head coach in program history, succeeding Mark Marquess, who retired after 41 years at the helm of the Cardinal. Esquer played under Marquess on Stanford's 1987 national championship team, and served as an assistant on The Farm from 1991-96. He spent 18 years as the head coach at Cal, where he was the 2011 National Coach of the Year and led the Bears to five NCAA Regionals and the 2011 College World Series, compiling a 525-467-2 mark.
A shortstop at Stanford from 1984-87, Esquer was a starter on the Cardinal's 1987 College World Series championship team. He went on to play professional baseball for four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, California Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. In three seasons as the top assistant at Pepperdine, Esquer was the program's chief recruiting coordinator as well as hitting instructor, infield coach and handler of the third base coaching duties. He was a three-sport star and class valedictorian at Palma High School in Salinas.
Esquer's pitching coach is Thomas Eager, who pitched at Cal Poly from 2005-07 and was Lee's pitching coach for three seasons before becoming an assistant coach at Cal under Esquer. The pair moved to Stanford prior to the 2018 season.
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 .284 mark with 31 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 13 weeks into the 2019 season is freshman designated hitter Conagher Sands with a .343 average and a 22-game hitting streak, fourth-longest in Cal Poly's 25-year Division I history. He is followed by Samuelson with a .301 average and 32 RBI, sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene at .274 with five doubles, a triple and 16 RBI, and middle infielder Connor Gurnik at .271 with seven doubles, a triple, one home run and 15 RBI.
Cal Poly's weekend rotation in the first eight weeks of the 2019 season consisted of senior righty Jarred Zill (2-5, 3.38 ERA), junior right-hander Bobby Ay (7-1, 3.77 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (2-5, 5.10 ERA). Zill missed his last five starts due to injury with freshman southpaw Chase Watkins (0-2, 5.58 ERA) stepping in. Freshman Bryan Woo (1-2, 9.14 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 Look Back
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 five 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 (537-416-2) reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 537 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 997 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just three victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
Cal Poly returns home to host UC Riverside for a three-game Big West series Friday through Sunday.