SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (35-5, 11-1 Big West), which achieved its first and second shutouts ever against Cal State Fullerton and swept the Titans for the first time in 41 years, moving up to No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, plays its next seven games on the road, beginning with a three-game Big West Conference series Friday through Sunday against Long Beach State (18-20, 5-4 Big West) at Blair Field (cap.: 3,000).
First pitches are set for 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. All three games of the series will be aired live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Tom Barket providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats as well as an audio stream are available at www.GoPoly.com.
Also ranked No. 2 by Baseball America and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and No. 3 by Perfect Game and USA Today/ESPN this week, Cal Poly posted its fourth unbeaten week of the season, going 4-0 last week with a 9-1 midweek win at Bakersfield and sweeping four-time defending Big West Conference champion Cal State Fullerton by scores of 8-0, 4-3 in 13 innings and 3-0 at home over the weekend, marking the first time since 2011 the Titans had been swept (LSU).
The Mustangs, the first Big West team to sweep the Titans since UC Riverside in 2007, also defeated San Jose State 12-5 on Tuesday to extend its winning streak to 11 games. Tim Wise produced his first career four-hit game, Zack Zehner added three hits and both drove in a pair of runs.
Cal Poly has won 10 series of three games or more this season and split two games in a rain-shortened series at USC. The Mustangs also have won each of their seven midweek games so far, including two shutouts against Santa Clara, and have not lost back-to-back games this season.
Past the halfway point of the 2014 season, the Mustangs are hitting .306 and have outscored the opposition 255-121 while the pitching staff has compiled a 2.76 ERA with 371 strikeouts and 136 walks in 359 innings. Cal Poly is No. 1 in the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings, No. 2 in winning percentage and No. 8 in fielding percentage.
Cal Poly won 18 consecutive home games, including the final seven of the 2013 season, before Cal snapped the streak March 22. The Mustangs are 24-2 at home this season and have won 94 of their last 119 home games for a winning percentage of 79 percent. At 17-3 four weeks ago, Cal Poly posted the program's second-best 20-game start in its 110-year history. The 1997 Mustangs opened the year 18-2. The current squad also produced its best-ever 30-game start at 25-5, exceeding the 23-7 start by the 2009 team, 22-8 opening by the 2013 squad and 21-9 start of the 1997 club.
Long Beach State won two of three games at home against UC Santa Barbara last weekend and dropped a 4-3 decision to San Diego on Monday as the Toreros rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dirtbags lost their first four games of the season, then battled back to get above .500 at 13-12 but have lost eight of their last 13 games. Long Beach State has won series against Utah Valley, Indiana, Cal State Northridge, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.
Cal Poly's top hitters after 40 games are sophomore second baseman Mark Mathias (.407, 28 RBI, has hit safely in 29 of last 30 games), junior right fielder Nick Torres (.335, 12 doubles, four home runs, 36 RBI), sophomore designated hitter Brian Mundell (.317, 10 doubles, four home runs, 35 RBI), junior outfielder Zack Zehner (.333, four doubles, 10 RBI), senior catcher Chris Hoo (.323, 13 doubles, 31 RBI) (pictured above) and senior third baseman Jimmy Allen (.300, 11 doubles, three triples, 28 RBI). Wise (.299, five doubles, two triples, 19 RBI) is near the .300 mark.
Mathias has gone 53-for-115 (.461) during his run of hitting safely in 29 of his last 30 games, including a 17-game hitting streak snapped three weeks ago (he has a current 12-game streak), while Mundell lifted his average 43 points in a recent three-week period by going 16-for-38 (.421).
The Mustangs have won 11 straight, 17 of their last 18 games and 25 of their last 27 contests. Cal Poly is 6-3 against the Pac-12, 3-0 against both the Big 12 and West Coast, 5-1 against the WAC and 2-0 versus the Mountain West this season. The 11-game streak is the longest by a single Mustang team in school history. A 14-game winning streak was compiled by the 2012 (last seven games of season) and 2013 (first seven games of season) squads.
Long Beach State, 29-27 a year ago and 15-12 for sixth place in the Big West Conference, returned 21 letter winners, including six position starters and eight pitchers. Top returnees included utility player Michael Hill (.336, 17 RBI), first baseman Ino Patron (.301, 30 RBI) and outfielder Richard Prigatano (.302, 23 RBI). Top returning pitchers include right-hander Ty Provencher (3-0, 2.33 ERA) and southpaw Jake Stassi (4-3, 4.32 ERA). Also back are two pitchers who missed the 2013 season due to injury -- right-hander Kyle Friedrichs (10 saves in 2012) and lefty Ryan Strufing (7-3, 2.99 ERA in 2012).
Coached by Troy Buckley (fourth year, 104-101, Santa Clara '90), Long Beach State has a .250 team batting average through 38 games, led by shortstop Garrett Hampson (.333, 10 doubles, 10 RBI), Prigatano (.311, 31 RBI, 14 of 16 steals) and left fielder Johnny Bekakis (.304, 10 RBI). The Dirtbags sport a 3.34 staff ERA and .979 fielding percentage with 31 errors in 38 games.
Long Beach State has earned eight Big West titles (the last in 2008), has qualified for an NCAA regional 19 times and has reached the College World Series four times (1989, 1991, 1993, 1998). Former Dirtbags in the Major Leagues include Jason Giambi, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki and Jered Weaver.
Buckley, a 10-year pitching coach for the Dirtbags before he was hired as head coach prior to the 2011 season, previously served three years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Santa Clara. He was a coach in the Montreal Expos organization from 1996 to 1997. Buckley was a ninth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1989, spending three years in the Twins organization, and was 1988 West Coast Conference Player of the Year and a second-team All-American as a catcher at Santa Clara.
Cal Poly and Long Beach State have met 134 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1957. The Dirtbags hold an 86-48 advantage, winning two of three games against the Mustangs each of the last three years. Long Beach State was 16-2 in a six-year stretch against the Mustangs until Cal Poly won two of three in 2009, its first series win at Blair Field since 1997, and also won two of three in 2010 in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly is 15-44 against Long Beach State since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 9-24 against Long Beach State while Troy Buckley is 6-3 against Cal Poly.
Two weeks ago, Cal Poly reached the 30-win mark for the 10th time in the last 15 years and clinched its 12th winning season since 2000. The Mustangs are 30 games above the .500 mark for the first time in their 20-year Division I history. Cal Poly has won all 10 series of three games or more this season (six sweeps) and 29 of 39 series, including 17 sweeps, over the last three years.
Lee, in his 12th season with the Mustangs, has guided Cal Poly to five 3-0 starts with season-opening series sweeps over San Diego in 2005, Fresno State in 2006, Oklahoma State in 2012, San Francisco last year and Kansas State this season. The Mustangs have finished in the upper half of the conference standings 10 times in the last 12 years.
Lee (384-277-2) earned his 300th win on May 5, 2012, in a 12-7 decision at UC Davis. Lee surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series a week earlier. Steve McFarland was 290-257 in 10 seasons (1984-93) at the helm of the Mustangs while Ritch Price was 217-228-1 in Cal Poly's first eight years of play in Division I (1995-2002).
Cal Poly continues its seven-game road trip with four contests next week, visiting Pepperdine on Tuesday and UC Riverside for a three-game Big West Conference series Friday through Sunday.