SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (5-11, 0-0 Big West), which has won three of its first five home games after playing 11 contests on the road to open the 2017 season, continues a 12-game home stand with a three-game weekend series against Wichita State (10-6, 0-0 Missouri Valley).
First pitches inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800) against the Shockers 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 struggled in all facets of the game during their season-opening 11-game road trip. The pitching staff's ERA was 5.50 with opposing batters hitting a robust .286. Defensively, Cal Poly committed five errors in the middle game at Pacific, three more in three other contests and sported a .955 fielding percentage with 18 errors in the 11 games.
And the offense struggled as well, as the Mustangs hit just .233 and were 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 numbers have improved since Cal Poly opened its current 12-game home stand with single wins over CSU Bakersfield, Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga. In five home games so far, the Mustangs have hit .306 with 16 doubles and four triples while the pitching staff has compiled a 2.54 ERA. Errors are still an issue as Cal Poly has committed 10 in five games for a .952 fielding percentage.
Last weekend, after opening the home schedule with a 9-7 win over CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday, the Mustangs salvaged a win in a three-game weekend set against Loyola Marymount, exploding for 16 hits in a 16-1 triumph on Sunday. Cal Poly followed up Monday night with a 6-1 win over Gonzaga, scoring five times in the fifth inning to break open a 1-0 contest.
Wichita State brings a 10-6 record into the weekend series after posting 11-5 and 10-4 victories over Northern Colorado earlier this week at home. The Shockers won their first seven games of the year, all at home, before being swept by Louisiana Tech and LSU the last two weekends on the road. Wichita State is 9-0 at home and 1-6 on the road.
Wichita State's pitching staff is anchored by senior right-hander Willie Schwanke (2-2, 4.03 ERA) and junior southpaw Cody Tyler (2-2, 5.40 ERA). A year ago, Schwanke was 5-3 with a 3.40 ERA while Tyler was 3-5 with a 4.46 ERA. Sunday starter Zach Lewis, 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA this season, was 2-9 with a 5.96 ERA a year ago.
Wichita State has 15 lettermen returning off last year's 21-37 squad that finished tied for fifth place in the Missouri Valley Conference. Among the returnees are seven position starters and 10 pitchers. Top returning position players include first baseman Greyson Jenista (.326, five home runs, 32 RBI in 2016), the Co-Freshman of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference and freshman All-American, along with shortstop Trey Vickers (.306, 19 RBI), a first-team All-Missouri Valley selection, and right fielder Dayton Dugas (.304, 24 RBI) and first baseman Alec Bohm (.303, 30 RBI), both second-team All-Missouri Valley picks and freshman All-Americans.
Jenista is off to a .344 start with five doubles and 14 RBI this spring, followed by third baseman Jordan Boyer at .333 and Bohm at .293.
Coached by Todd Butler (fourth season (88-104), seventh year overall (178-187), McNeese State '91), Wichita State has qualified for seven College World Series (the last in 1996) and 27 regionals (the last in 2009), much of that success under the legendary Gene Stephenson, who compiled a 1,768-673 record over 36 seasons and guided the Shockers to seven College World Series and 26 NCAA regional appearances. His teams never had a losing season. The 1982 Wichita State team earned an NCAA-record 73 wins while the 1989 Shockers captured the national championship.
Butler was head coach at McNeese State from 2001-03, compiling a 90-83 mark and one Southland Conference title, and was an assistant at Alabama and Arkansas before he was hired at Wichita State prior to the 2014 season. Butler was an All-American player at McNeese State (1985-86) and Oklahoma (1987-88). He stole 46 bases in 1988, an Oklahoma school record.
Wichita State has a .261 team batting average through 16 games, sports a 4.63 staff ERA and owns a .968 fielding percentage with 18 errors in 16 games.
Cal Poly won two of three games at Wichita State last year in Eck Stadium, bouncing back from a 6-0 loss in the opener of the series with 7-2 and 7-6 triumphs.
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 in 2016) 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.
Cal Poly's top hitter through 16 games is McKenna (pictured above), who has eight hits in his last 12 at-bats with two doubles and four RBI since being moved to the leadoff spot in the batting order, lifting his average 75 points to .373 with five doubles and seven RBI. Sanderson owns a .310 average with five doubles, a triple and five RBI while George is hitting at a .306 clip with five doubles, a triple and 12 RBI. Meyer also has 12 RBI to go with his .267 average.
Uelmen, who sports a 2.05 ERA with 26 strikeouts over 26 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 1-3 because in his last three starts over 20 2/3 innings, he has received zero runs from his teammates.
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 139 of their last 182 home games for a winning percentage of 75.5 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 (460-347-2) 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 hosts Nebraska for four games with single contests Thursday and Friday nights and a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday.