SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (21-25, 9-6 Big West), which suffered its first Big West series loss of the year last weekend but still has won 13 of its last 22 games after an 8-16 start to the 2017 season, plays its final midweek game Tuesday afternoon, visiting Pepperdine (18-27, 7-14 West Coast) inside Eddy D. Field Stadium (cap.: 1,800).
First pitch is set for 3 p.m. 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 returned after starting seven games a year ago.
After winning just twice during a season-opening 11-game road trip, Cal Poly posted a 6-6 mark in a 12-game home stand in March. Since the start of Big West play on the final day of March, the Mustangs have hit .308, have outscored the opposition 124-86, have compiled a 3.31 ERA and 13-9 record and own a .975 fielding percentage with 21 errors in the 22 games.
Those numbers are in sharp contrast to the .253 average, 42 errors and 121 runs surrendered en route to an 8-16 record in the first 24 games of the season.
Last week, the Mustangs defeated Pepperdine 5-3 in a midweek contest, then dropped two of three Big West games at Long Beach State over the weekend. Cal Poly won the middle game 6-3, sandwiched by three-run losses -- 3-0 on Friday night and 5-2 on Sunday afternoon. The Mustangs hit just .230 in the series, compiled a 3.60 staff ERA and did not steal a base. Outfielder Kevin Morgan went 4-for-8 with a double while center fielder Alex McKenna was 5-for-14, also with a double.
Pepperdine saw its 11-game losing streak come to an end with a 6-5 victory at San Francisco on Saturday, but the Waves dropped the other two contests in the series, 3-0 on Friday and 18-4 on Sunday. The Waves, who have lost 12 of their last 13 games, own series victories over St. Joseph's, Rice, Gonzaga and Portland and were 17-15 after an 11-7 win over BYU on April 13 before losing the final two games of that series. Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara followed with series sweeps against the Waves in Malibu.
Pepperdine has 21 lettermen returning off last year's 29-24 squad that finished fourth in the West Coast standings at 16-11. Among the returnees are seven position starters and seven pitchers.
Top returning position players include designated hitter Aaron Barnett (.292, 15 doubles, 22 RBI in 2016), first baseman Ben Rodriguez (.289, nine home runs, 29 RBI) and infielder Chase Lambert (.286, seven doubles, 20 RBI). The pitching staff is paced by Max Gamboa (2-9, 3.74 ERA in 2016), Easton Lucas (3-4, 4.58 ERA) and Kiko Garcia (4-3, 5.10 ERA) along with closer Ryan Wilson (2-0, 0.63 ERA, six saves).
Barnett is hitting .309 to date with 12 doubles and 24 RBI while center fielder Jeremy Goldenetz sports a .279 average. Left fielder Brandon Caruso is hitting .238 with 11 doubles and 13 RBI while right fielder Jordan Qsar has a .267 average with 11 doubles and 20 RBI. Second baseman Quincy McAfee has brought his average up to .270 with 11 doubles, three home runs and 17 RBI while shortstop Aharon Modlin is hitting .278 with 13 RBI.
Coached by Rick Hirtensteiner (second season, 47-51, Pepperdine '89), Pepperdine is hitting .251 as a team with 18 home runs, has stolen 15 of 24 bases, has compiled a 4.50 staff ERA and owns a .974 fielding percentage with 45 errors in 45 games. Hirtensteiner, a four-year standout at Pepperdine who earned All-American honors as a senior in 1989, was an assistant at Pepperdine for 17 seasons before replacing Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor) prior to the 2016 campaign.
A regional qualifier for the 28th time in 2015 and 1992 College World Series champion, Pepperdine has appeared in one Super Regional (Fort Worth in 2014) and two College World Series. The Waves won the 2015 West Coast Conference postseason tournament in Stockton and went 2-2 in the Fullerton Regional.
Cal Poly and Pepperdine have met 61 times in baseball since the series began in 1947. The Waves hold a 36-25 advantage after Cal Poly's come-from-behind win last Tuesday. The two teams split a pair of midweek games in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Pepperdine also earned 2-1 and 10-6 wins over the Mustangs in the 2014 San Luis Obispo Regional. Cal Poly is 15-21 against Pepperdine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
Larry Lee is 12-14 against his alma mater while Rick Hirtensteiner is 1-2 against Cal Poly.
Starting pitchers for Tuesday's game will be sophomore right-hander Cam Schneider (2-2, 3.80 ERA) (pictured above) for Cal Poly and Garcia (4-1, 2.94 ERA), a junior right-hander, for Pepperdine.
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 46 games is McKenna with a .371 mark, including 11 doubles, five home runs and 28 RBI with 25 multiple-hit games. He is 42-for-97 (.433) over his last 21 games with 15 multiple-hit contests. Sanderson is hitting .342 with 10 doubles, a triple, a pair of home runs and 23 RBI, going 47-for-130 (.362) over his last 32 games.
Beesley is hitting .329 with 13 doubles and two triples, going 55-for-151 (.364) since and including the middle game of the San Diego State series when he produced his first four-hit game. He was hitting .160 prior to that contest March 4. Marinconz has lifted his average 23 points over the last 10 games to .257 by going 13-for-38 (.342) while George owns a .254 mark with nine doubles and 22 RBI.
Uelmen, who has struck out 74 batters over 74 1/3 innings, leads the Mustang pitching corps. His record is just 2-8 because in an early-season stretch of three consecutive starts over 20 2/3 innings, he received zero runs from his teammates and Cal Poly also was shut out in his last start Friday at Long Beach State. Eight 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 seven weeks ago and one earned run and seven hits over six frames in a non-decision 10-inning 3-2 win at UC Irvine six weeks ago. Uelmen's first win was in the season opener at Cal on Feb. 18 and he finally notched win No. 2 four weeks ago at UC Davis, giving up one run and five hits over six innings.
Howard (5-1, 2.27 ERA, second-best in the Big West) picked up his first win with seven scoreless innings against Wichita State eight weeks ago, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts, and earned his second win in the Hawai'i series, his third against Cal State Fullerton, his fourth at UCLA and his fifth last week at Long Beach State. Sophomore righty Bobby Ay (1-5, 5.08 ERA) 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 147 of their last 199 home games for a winning percentage of 73.9 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 (476-361-2) 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.
Cal Poly has played seven games against Pac-12 teams this season, winning one of three in the season-opening series at Cal, falling at Stanford on Feb. 23 and losing two of three contests at UCLA. The schedule also featured 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 returns home to host CSUN for a Big West series Friday through Sunday.