SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (3-9, 0-0 Big West), which opened the home portion of its 2017 schedule with a 9-7 victory over CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday after playing its first 11 games on the road, continues a 12-game homestand with a three-game weekend series against Loyola Marymount (6-7, 0-0 West Coast).
First pitches inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800) against the Lions will be at 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. All three games of the non-conference series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 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.
Despite having 25 freshmen and sophomores on the roster a year ago, including as many as six true freshmen and a community college transfer in the starting lineup, Cal Poly posted a 32-25 mark in 2016, won nine of 15 weekend series, including victories over No. 14 UCLA and No. 19 Michigan and a sweep against College World Series participant UC Santa Barbara.
Eight position players who started at least 27 games a year ago are on the 2017 roster and the pitching rotation features all four returning starters off the 2016 squad, including weekend starters Erich Uelmen (5-3, 3.68 ERA), Kyle Smith (6-6, 3.64 ERA) and Jarred Zill (4-3, 2.79 ERA). Sophomore right-hander Cam Schneider also returns after starting seven games a year ago.
Despite the presence of a large number of veterans, the Mustangs have struggled in all facets of the game. The pitching staff's ERA is 5.55 with opposing batters hitting a robust .285. Defensively, Cal Poly committed five errors in the middle game at Pacific, three more in three other contests and sports a .952 fielding percentage with 21 errors in 12 games.
And the offense has struggled as well as the Mustangs, hitting just .237, have been shut out four times. During one stretch, Cal Poly failed to score in 25 consecutive innings, a school Division I record. Pacific and San Diego State both blanked the Mustangs twice en route to series sweeps the last two weekends.
Fifteenth-year Mustang head coach Larry Lee plans to make another change in the pitching rotation this weekend, inserting redshirt sophomore right-hander Spencer Howard (0-0, 2.79 ERA) (pictured at left below) into the Saturday slot. Junior right-hander Erich Uelmen (1-2, 2.79 ERA) will start Friday night and sophomore righty Bobby Ay (0-2, 5.23 ERA) will start the series finale Sunday.
The Mustangs closed out the season-opening 11-game road trip last weekend with 5-0, 6-4 and 2-0 losses at San Diego State, stranding 32 runners on the basepaths in the three contests, including 13 in the finale as they had at least two runners on base five times. In Tuesday's win over CSU Bakersfield, Cal Poly overcame a 5-0 deficit and took advantage of four Roadrunner errors and five wild pitches.
Only one Mustang is hitting above the .300 mark to date. Sophomore center fielder Alex McKenna is hitting .318 after going 5-for-13 in the San Diego State series. Junior outfielder Josh George slipped to .268 after a 1-for-12 series against the Aztecs but rebounded with two hits and three RBI against CSU Bakersfield and is hitting .283 with six RBI. Senior third baseman Michael Sanderson owns a .262 mark.
Loyola Marymount is led by second baseman Phil Caulfield with a .396 average, including three doubles and a triple. Center fielder Billy Wilson is hitting .295 with five doubles, a home run and a team-leading nine RBI while shortstop Spencer Erdman sports a .316 mark with three doubles and a triple.
The Lions' pitching staff is paced by southpaw Brenton Arriaga (2-0, 0.93 ERA) and right-handers Codie Paiva (2-0, 2.87 ERA), Cory Abbott (2-0, 4.15 ERA) and Blake Redman (0-3, 3.86 ERA). Loyola Marymount owns a 4.03 staff ERA, a .270 team batting average and has committed 22 errors in 13 games for a .957 fielding percentage.
Loyola Marymount has won series against UC Santa Barbara and Arizona State, split four games against Washington State and lost midweek games against Tennessee, Michigan and, on Tuesday night, UC Irvine. The Anteaters scored three times in the ninth to overcome a 6-4 deficit and the Lions left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Loyola Marymount is coming off a 26-27 campaign in 2016, finishing tied for sixth place in the West Coast Conference. The Lions last won a conference title in 2000 and has made eight appearances in the NCAA regionals, reaching the College World Series in 1986.
Loyola Marymount, coached by Jason Gill (ninth season, 231-220-1, Cal State Fullerton '96), returns 26 lettermen, including seven position starters and 10 pitchers, off a team which went 26-27 a year ago and finished tied for sixth place in the West Coast Conference at 13-14.
LMU has won six conference titles (the last three from 1998-2000) and has qualified for the NCAA regionals eight times (the last in 2000), including one trip to the College World Series (1986).
Prior to being hired at Loyola Marymount, Gill was infield coach, recruiting coordinator and primary hitting instructor under George Horton at Oregon and Cal State Fullerton. He was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons at UC Irvine, two years at Loyola Marymount and two seasons at Nevada. Gill played one season at Cal State Fullerton, earning all-Big West Conference honors as an infielder, one season at Cal State Dominguez Hills and two seasons under Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee at Cuesta College in the early 1990s.
Though Cal Poly and Loyola Marymount have not played against each other since 2012, the Mustangs and Lions have played each other 37 times on the baseball diamond and the Lions own a 20-17 advantage in the all-time series dating back to 1949. The Mustangs won all four games in Los Angeles in 2012. Cal Poly is 13-15 against Loyola Marymount since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 12-9 against Loyola Marymount while Jason Gill is 3-8 against Cal Poly.
Cal Poly's 2017 roster is led by seven returning position starters and eight pitchers who tossed 20 or more innings in 2016.
Outfielder Josh George (.306, seven doubles, 16 RBI) and catcher Nick Meyer (.301, seven doubles, 21 RBI) both hit above the .300 mark a year ago. Meyer was a second-team All-Big West selection and also was named Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year after picking off a Big West-leading 10 runners and threw out 22 would-be base stealers, second in the conference.
Middle infielder Kyle Marinconz (.284, 15 doubles, 25 RBI), an All-Big West honorable mention, joined Meyer on Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team. Third baseman Michael Sanderson (.296, 12 doubles, 33 RBI), outfielder Kevin Morgan (.269, 15 RBI), outfielder Alex McKenna (.261, six home runs, 27 RBI) and shortstop Brett Binning (.225) also return.
A pair of true freshmen -- shortstop Bradlee Beesley (.407, 19 RBI at San Leandro High School) and outfielder Scott Ogrin (.412, 18 RBI at Valencia High School) -- were in the starting lineup on Opening Day along with community college transfer Elijah Skipps (Cypress College) at first base.
A year ago Cal Poly earned its 14th winning season since 2000 and reached the 30-win mark for the 11th time this century. The Mustangs were 23-8 at home last season and have won 137 of their last 180 home games for a winning percentage of 76.1 percent.
Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, has finished fourth or higher in the Big West 12 times in its last 14 seasons, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes after capturing its first Big West championship in 2014.
Lee (458-345-2) earned his 400th win March 7, 2015, at Pacific and surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series in 2011. Lee's previous 14 clubs at Cal Poly have averaged 32.5 wins per season.
In addition to the four games already played against Pac-12 schools, Cal Poly's 2017 schedule also includes a three-game series at UCLA in late April. The schedule features 14 games against 2016 NCAA regional qualifiers, a 12-game home stand in March and 28 contests in all inside Baggett Stadium. All 56 Mustang games this spring will be played in the Golden State.
Next week, Cal Poly continues its long home stand by hosting Gonzaga on Monday night and Wichita State for a three-game series Friday through Sunday.