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Cal Poly Picked to Finish Sixth in Big West by Baseball Coaches

Cal Poly Picked to Finish Sixth in Big West by Baseball Coaches

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly, Big West Conference champion in 2014 and fourth-place finisher a year ago, has been selected by the league's nine head baseball coaches to finish sixth this spring.

Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs, who have finished in the upper half of the Big West standings 12 times in the last 14 seasons, have just two position starters returning along with eight of last year's 13 pitchers. Two-thirds of the Mustangs' 35-man baseball roster are freshmen or sophomores.

The two returning position starters are catcher Brett Barbier and right fielder John Schuknecht. The pitching staff will be led by southpaw Kyle Smith and right-handers Jarred Zill, Justin Calomeni and Andrew Bernstein, each of whom started at least six games a year ago.

Cal State Fullerton, which captured its 20th Big West title and posted its 41st consecutive winning season in 2015, has been tabbed the team to beat in 2016 as they begin their quest to claim the league title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Cal State Fullerton advanced to its 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament and 37th overall in 41 years of existence last spring.

The Titans earned four first-place votes en route to a total of 71 points while UC Irvine, which received one first-place vote, holds the second spot with 65 points. Long Beach State secured the third slot after earning three first-place votes for a total of 62 points and the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara picked up the final first-place vote and tallied 60 points to finish fourth.

With 44 total points, CSUN clinched the fifth spot with Cal Poly landing sixth with 43 points.  Hawai'i ranked seventh with 27 points and was followed by UC Riverside (17) and UC Davis (16).

Coming off its 17th trip to the College World Series and led by 18 returning lettermen, Cal State Fullerton is already being recognized as a top contender for the 2016 conference title by multiple media outlets.  The Titans are the lone team in the Big West ranked among the top 25 in the 2016 preseason polls, the highest ranking of 12th coming from Collegiate Baseball.  

Despite losing a few key players from last year, the Titans welcome back their offensive spark plugs, All-Big West First Team members Josh Vargas (.332) and Jerrod Bravo (.318). All-Big West First Team pitcher Miles Chambers (5-3, 2.17 ERA) and honorable mention pitcher John Gavin (7-3) also return.

UC Irvine welcomes back a pair of All-Big West First Team recipients in Keston Hiura and Mikey Duarte.  Hiura, the 2015 Big West Freshman Player of the Year, hit .330 while Duarte was the conference's leader in hits with 77 and ended the regular season fifth in the Big West with a .341 batting average.

Looking to grab their first conference title since 2008, the Dirtbags are led by 2016 Preseason All-Americans shortstop Garrett Hampson, the Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year in 2014, and pitcher Chris Mathewson (1.94 ERA).

UC Santa Barbara, which hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time, welcomes back outfielder Andrew Calica (.329) and pitchers Shane Bieber (8-4, 2.24 ERA) and Kyle Nelson (3-1, 0.75 ERA).

Cal Poly, which opens practice Friday afternoon, plays its Alumni Game on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. and officially kicks off its 2016 season Feb. 19-21 with a four-game series against former Big West rival Pacific in Baggett Stadium. The Mustangs play their first 12 games at home.

Big West Conference
2016 Preseason Baseball Coaches Poll
1. Cal State Fullerton (4)    71
2. UC Irvine (1)                    65
3. Long Beach State (3)     62
4. UC Santa Barbara (1)    60
5. CSUN                              44
6. Cal Poly                           43
7. Hawai'i                            27
8. UC Riverside                  17
9. UC Davis                         16