SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (0-0, 0-0 Big West) and Oklahoma State (0-0, 0-0 Big 12), a pair of teams with youthful rosters -- 14 newcomers and four redshirts for the Mustangs and 25 players who will don Cowboy uniforms for the first time this week -- open the 2012 baseball season with a three-game series Friday through Sunday in Baggett Stadium (cap.: 1,734).
First pitch for the games Friday and Saturday is set for 6 p.m., with Sunday's series finale to start at 1 o'clock. ESPN Radio 1280 will broadcast the first and third games of the series. All three games will be available on the Internet at www.gopoly.com. Video stream and live stats also are available for the series.
Cal Poly returns 16 letter winners, including five position starters and five pitchers, off its 2011 squad which finished 27-26 overall and third in the Big West at 15-9. The Mustangs started the year 0-6, including three losses at Oklahoma State by scores of 8-2, 1-0 and 8-7, then won 27 of their next 44 games.
"The last couple of years, we got off to a slow start against some top-of-the-line opponents with a very young team," said 10th-year Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee. "We're hoping the experience they gained last year will help us hit the ground running from Game 1 this year. In my mind, we have to play against the best that college baseball has to offer if we're going to take our program to the level we want to be."
That would include Oklahoma State, which went 35-25 a year ago, finished fourth in the Big 12 Conference and earned a berth in the NCAA Nashville Regional. The Cowboys won the Big 12 tournament title in 2004, have claimed 24 Big Eight championships, including 16 straight from 1981-96, and have made 38 NCAA regional appearances and 19 College World Series, winning the national title in 1959.
Coached by Frank Anderson (ninth season, 297-183, Emporia State '83), Oklahoma State returns 10 lettermen, including four position starters and seven pitchers. Top returnees are third baseman Mark Ginther (.292, 10 home runs, 33 RBI in 2011), shortstop Hunter Bailey (.265, 17 RBI), outfielder Gabe Weidenaar (.280, 22 RBI) and catcher/outfielder Jared Womack (.282, eight home runs, 46 RBI).
Oklahoma State's pitching staff is paced by southpaw Andrew Heaney (7-4, 4.03 ERA in 2011) and right-handers Blake Barnes (3-1, 3.38 ERA), Randy McCurry (2-4, 2.91 ERA) and Weidenaar (0-0, 0.42 ERA, three saves). Senior Kyle Ottoson, a transfer from Arizona State, is the likely Saturday starter for the Cowboys. Heaney allowed four hits in eight scoreless innings with three strikeouts en route to the 1-0 victory over Cal Poly a year ago at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
Oklahoma State has a 4-0 advantage in its series against Cal Poly, including a 4-3 win in 2002 at Loyola Marymount.
Last Saturday, freshman southpaw Matt Imhof pitched five shutout innings, allowing just two hits, and freshman outfielder Nick Torres drove in three runs with a home run, triple and groundout as Cal Poly defeated its alumni 14-3 in the annual Alumni Game at Baggett Stadium. Imhof scattered two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four. Four Mustang relievers each pitched an inning, junior Nick Grim closing out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Cal Poly's group of youngsters who gained valuable playing experience a year ago includes freshman pitchers Chase Johnson (2-5, 3.67 ERA) and Taylor Chris (0-0, 4.15 ERA), sophomore hurler Joey Wagman (4-3, 3.62 ERA) and position players Jimmy Allen (.261, 15 RBI), Tim Wise (.286, 11 RBI), David Armendariz (.161), all freshman outfielders, and catcher Chris Hoo (.203), also a freshman in 2011.
The position players participated in at least 26 games a year ago while the trio of pitchers appeared in 10 or more contests. The experience they gained, combined with six other veterans (five position starters and one pitcher) could help Cal Poly get off to a better start this spring.
"This year's squad is very team-oriented with a great work ethic," said Lee, 273-233-2 in his previous nine years at the helm of the Mustangs, "and has continued to create a great culture within the baseball program.
"There's a definite possibility that all three facets of the game -- pitching, offense and defense -- can be solid," Lee added, "and we need to be solid in all three in order to compete against the non-conference and Big West opponents on this year's schedule."
Senior southpaw Kyle Anderson (3-5, 4.26 ERA) joins Wagman, Johnson and Chris as the only veteran hurlers on the staff while the list of veteran position players on the roster is headed by senior shortstop Mike Miller (.306, 23 RBI, seven steals) and junior outfielder Mitch Haniger (.274, six home runs, 27 RBI), the 2010 Big West freshman player of the year.
Others include junior second baseman Denver Chavez (.277, 13 RBI, 17 sacrifice bunts) and junior infielder Evan Busby (.223, 14 RBI, 14 sacrifice bunts).
A year ago Cal Poly posted its sixth winning season in the last eight years, and a third-place finish in the highly competitive Big West Conference at 15-9. The Mustangs have finished in the upper half of the league standings eight times in the last 10 years.
Cal Poly was 7-4 against top-25 teams in 2011 and finished 19-7 at home.
Next week the Mustangs conclude their season-opening four-game homestand with a Tuesday matchup against Santa Clara, followed by a four-game weekend series at Loyola Marymount.