Cal Poly to Host Nebraska for Four Baseball Games This Weekend

Cal Poly to Host Nebraska for Four Baseball Games This Weekend

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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (7-12, 0-0 Big West), which earned its first series win of the 2017 baseball season by taking two of three games against Wichita State last week, concludes a 12-game home stand with a four-game non-conference series against Nebraska (9-9, 0-0 Big Ten).

First pitches inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 2,800) against the Huskers will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday (a change due to impending weather) and a 1 o'clock doubleheader Saturday. All four games 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 returned to Baggett Stadium for a 12-game home stand. In eight home games so far, the Mustangs have hit .277 with 18 doubles and six triples while the pitching staff has compiled a 2.10 ERA with 86 strikeouts over 77 innings. Errors are still an issue as Cal Poly has committed 14 in eight games for a .957 fielding percentage.

A week after opening the home schedule with a 9-7 win over CSU Bakersfield and taking one of three games against Loyola Marymount, Cal Poly earned a 6-1 win over Gonzaga and beat Wichita State twice for its first series win of the year. The Mustangs are 5-3 at home after the 2-9 start on the road.

Nebraska slipped to 9-9 Tuesday night with an 8-6 loss at CSU Bakersfield, surrendering four runs with two outs in the eighth inning. The Huskers split two games against UC Riverside -- a matchup of former Angels as head coaches (Nebraska's Darin Erstad and the Highlanders' Troy Percival) -- in Tempe, Ariz., to open the year, then lost twice to Oregon State and split two games against Utah in the Big Ten-Pac-12 Challenge at Surprise, Ariz. At the Frisco College Baseball Classic, Nebraska defeated Arizona while falling to Oklahoma State and Arkansas. After a pair of midweek wins over Northern Colorado, the Huskers lost two of three games to Western Carolina, then wrapped up the eight-game home stand by sweeping a three-game set against College of Charleston last weekend.

Nebraska's pitching staff is anchored by junior southpaw Jake Meyers (3-1, 1.54 ERA), junior right-hander Jake Hohensee (1-2, 2.33 ERA) and senior right-hander Derek Burkamper (1-2, 3.78 ERA). A year ago, Meyer was 6-1 with a 1.42 ERA, Burkamper 6-3, 3.09 ERA and Hohensee missed the 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery performed following the 2015 campaign. Closer Chad Luensmann (1-2, 1.18 ERA, 13 saves) also returns.

Nebraska has 23 lettermen returning off last year's 37-22 squad that finished second in the Big Ten and qualified for the Clemson Regional. Among the returnees are five position starters and five pitchers. Top returning position players include Meyers (.326, 12 doubles, six triples, 29 RBI, 10 steals in 2016), who plays center field when not on the mound, along with right fielder/designated hitter Scott Schreiber (.325, 10 doubles, 16 home runs, 55 RBI) and first baseman Ben Miller (.317, 16 doubles, six home runs, 46 RBI).

Schreiber is off to a .348 start with five doubles, two home runs and 17 RBI this spring. Meyers is hitting .286 and Miller .150. Shortstop Angelo Altavilla is hitting .365 with five doubles and 14 RBI while outfielder Mojo Haage sports a .344 mark with two doubles and eight RBI.

Coached by Darin Erstad (sixth season, 185-128, Nebraska), the Huskers have qualified for three College World Series (2001, 2002, 2005) and 14 regionals (the last in 2016). Nebraska has claimed six regular-season conference titles and four conference tournament championships (mostly as a member of the Big 12).

Erstad was named the 23rd head coach of the Nebraska baseball program on June 2, 2011. Over his first five seasons, the Huskers have made two trips to the NCAA Tournament and have qualified for the Big Ten Tournament each year. A two-time Major League All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Erstad enjoyed a 14-year career in Major League Baseball with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1996-06), Chicago White Sox (2007) and Houston Astros (2008-09).

During his career, he helped the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and two other playoff appearances. Erstad appeared in 1,654 games, while finishing his career as a .282 hitter with 1,697 hits, 124 homers and 699 RBIs. He was at his best in the postseason, hitting .339 in 29 career playoff games, including a .352 clip during the Angels World Series run in 2002. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was a two-sport star at Nebraska, earning first-team All-American and Big Eight Co-Player of the Year honors as a junior in 1995 in baseball and he was the starting punter for the Huskers' 1994 national championship football team that finished 13-0. A native of Jamestown, N.D., Erstad earned first-team all-state accolades in four sports (football, hockey, track and baseball) in high school.

Nebraska has a .262 team batting average through 18 games, sports a 3.67 staff ERA and owns a .979 fielding percentage with 14 errors in 18 contests. The Huskers have stolen 17 of 17 bases.

Nebraska is 6-0 all-time against Cal Poly, winning once in 1998 at a tournament hosted by Arizona State, sweeping a three-game series in 2002 at Lincoln and claiming two midweek games in 2003, also in Lincoln. Larry Lee is 0-2 against the Huskers while Darin Erstad is 0-0 against the Mustangs.

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 -- infielder Bradlee Beesley (.407, 19 RBI at San Leandro High School) and outfielder/designated hitter 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 19 games is McKenna, who is 12-for-26 (.462) with two doubles and four RBI since being moved to the leadoff spot in the batting order, lifting his average 58 points to .356 with five doubles and seven RBI. Sanderson owns a .290 average with five doubles, a triple and five RBI while George is hitting at a .264 clip with five doubles, a triple and 14 RBI. Meyer has 13 RBI to go with his .260 average.

Uelmen, who sports a 2.43 ERA with 36 strikeouts over 33 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 1-3 because in a recent streak of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates. And last week against Wichita State, he pitched seven strong innings with 10 strikeouts but was not involved in the 13-inning decision, a 5-4 Mustang win.

Sophomore right-hander Spencer Howard lowered his ERA to 1.27 and picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against the Shockers last Saturday, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts. Sunday starter Cam Schneider allowed just one earned run and five hits over seven innings, dropping his ERA to 2.63.

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 (462-348-2) 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 plays Tuesday night at Fresno State and opens Big West Conference play with a three-game series at UC Irvine.