SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (15-19, 6-3 Big West), which has opened Big West play with two-to-one series wins against UC Irvine, Hawai'i and UC Davis and has won seven of its last 10 games, steps away from Big West competition Tuesday night with a single midweek game at CSU Bakersfield (19-12, 6-6 Western Athletic) in a non-conference matchup of third place in their respective conference standings.
First pitch at Hardt Field (cap.: 2,000) is set for 6 p.m. and the game 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 improved during Cal Poly's 12-game home stand inside Baggett Stadium -- the team splitting the 12 contests -- and the Mustangs have hit .316 in their first nine Big West games in addition to compiling a 3.59 staff ERA and a .972 fielding percentage with just 10 errors.
Last week, the Mustangs blanked Santa Clara 15-0 to close out a four-game home stand, then earned its third consecutive Big West series win, two games to one, at UC Davis. Against Santa Clara, sophomore center fielder Alex McKenna belted two home runs and drove in five runs while sophomore catcher Nick Meyer added three hits and three RBI. A quartet of Mustang pitchers combined on a two-hitter and 10 strikeouts.
Cal Poly sandwiched a 3-0 loss at Raley Field with 4-1 and 9-6 victories against UC Davis over the weekend. Senior first baseman Michael Sanderson went 6-for-11 with two RBI and four runs scored against the Aggies. Freshman third baseman Bradlee Beesley was 6-for-14 with a double and triple while McKenna had a 5-for-12 weekend with two doubles.
CSU Bakersfield opened last week with a 4-2 win over CSUN, then stretched its current winning streak to five games by sweeping Utah Valley in a WAC series by scores of 10-0, 9-5 and 7-5. The Roadrunners were 12-11 before winning seven of their last eight contests and close out a five-game home stand against the Mustangs before heading to Arizona State for a three-game non-conference series this weekend.
CSU Bakersfield is coming off a 19-37 campaign, including an 12-14 mark for seventh place in the Western Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners return 14 lettermen, including five of the 10 position starters and eight pitchers (two starters). First-year head coach Jeremy Beard took over for Bob Macaluso in December.
CSU Bakersfield's top returnees this spring are infielder David Metzger (.305, 47 RBI, 10 steals in 2016), catcher/infielder Jake Ortega (.286, 13 RBI) and pitcher/infielder Max Carter (.285, 26 RBI). The two returning starters on the mound are Max Carter (0-8, 7.47 ERA) and Andrew Hansen (3-8, 5.38 ERA).
Senior right-hander Garrett Nimmo (1-2, 4.89 ERA), 2-5 with a 5.96 ERA a year ago, will start for CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday night, facing Mustang junior southpaw Kyle Smith (0-2, 6.75 ERA),making his fifth start of the year after going 6-6 with a 3.64 ERA as a weekend starter in 2016.
The Roadrunners played their first 11 games at home and jumped to an 8-3 start, losing two of three games against Utah before claiming series wins against BYU and Portland along with a midweek win over UC Santa Barbara. CSU Bakersfield won a series at UC Riverside before opening WAC play and are 6-6 in conference games with series wins over Chicago State and Utah Valley along with losses to Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Grand Canyon.
CSU Bakersfield sports a .317 team batting average, No. 14 in Division I, with a 4.22 staff ERA and a .959 fielding percentage with 48 errors in 31 games. The Roadrunners have stolen 34 of 49 bases this season.
Outfielder Ryan Grotjohn sports a team-leading .450 average, No. 2 in the nation, with 10 doubles, three triples and 29 RBI while left fielder Andrew Penner is hitting .415 with 17 RBI. Metzgar owns a .395 average with six doubles, three triples and 24 RBI while Carter is hitting .357 with 24 RBI. Also above the .300 mark are Ortega (.339, 11 RBI) and designated hitter Mahlik Jones (.313, 26 RBI).
CSU Bakersfield launched its baseball program in 2009 and the Roadrunners have been a member of the WAC since the 2013 campaign. Macaluso replaced Bill Kernen as head coach on Aug. 31, 2015, but coached just one season. Beard coached at Portland in 2014 and 2015 before becoming pitching coach of the Roadrunners for the 2016 campaign. He also has coached at Central Catholic High School (1998-2001) in Portland, Ore., Columbia Basin College (Wash.) from 2001-10 and Western Nevada College in 2011 and 2012. Beard was a pitcher at Oregon State, graduating in 1996.
Cal Poly and CSU Bakersfield have met 23 times on the baseball field since the series began in 2009. The Mustangs hold a 17-6 advantage in the series, winning six of the first seven, capturing a pair of midweek games in both 2013 and 2014, splitting the two meetings in 2015 and claiming both midweek games in 2016. Cal Poly opened a 12-game home stand March 7 with a 9-7 win over the Roadrunners, scoring six runs in the seventh inning to complete its comeback from a 5-0 deficit. Junior outfielder Josh George tied the game with a two-run single in the seventh and Beesley snapped the tie by scoring on a wild pitch.
Larry Lee is 17-6 against CSU Bakersfield while Jeremy Beard is 0-1 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 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), a second-team All-Big West selection in 2016, 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 34 games is Sanderson (pictured above) at .361, going 33-for-83 (.398) over his last 20 games, followed by McKenna with a .360 mark, including eight doubles, two home runs and 19 RBI. He is 20-for-42 (.476) over his last nine games with seven multiple-hit contests.
Beesley is hitting .299 with nine doubles, going 35-for-101 (.347) since and including the final game of the San Diego State series when he produced his first four-hit game. He was hitting .160 prior to that contest March 5. Meyer owns a .269 average with a team-leading 23 RBI while George, who broke out of a 0-for-22 slump with two hits in the finale of the Nebraska series and three more at Fresno State, is hitting at a .257 clip with eight doubles and 20 RBI. Shortstop Kyle Marinconz has a .244 average with 13 extra-base hits and 20 RBI.
Uelmen, who has struck out 53 batters over 55 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 2-5 because in a recent streak of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates. Four weeks ago 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. He gave up two earned runs and four hits over six innings in a 3-2 loss to Nebraska four weeks ago and one earned run and seven hits over six frames in a non-decision 10-inning 3-2 win at UC Irvine three weeks ago. Uelmen's first win was in the season opener at Cal on Feb. 18 and he finally notched win No. 2 last week at UC Davis, giving up one run and five hits over six innings.
Howard (2-1, 1.79 ERA, best in the Big West) picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against Wichita State five weeks ago, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts, and earned his second win in the Hawai'i series, allowing three hits and striking out nine over 5 2/3 innings. Sophomore righty Bobby Ay (1-3) earned his first win April 9 against Hawai'i, pitching into the eighth inning for the first time and allowing a run and five hits with six strikeouts.
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 140 of their last 186 home games for a winning percentage of 75.3 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 (470-355-2) 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. Lee earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and, in his 15th season at Cal Poly, notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13 against Gonzaga.
In addition to the four games already played against Pac-12 schools, Cal Poly's 2017 schedule also includes a three-game set 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.
Cal Poly continues Big West play with a three-game series Friday through Sunday against top-10 team Cal State Fullerton inside Baggett Stadium.