WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | KANSAS STATE | BIG WEST
LIVE STATS | VIDEO STREAM (Friday and Sunday only)
AUDIO STREAM: FRIDAY | SATURDAY | SUNDAY
VIDEO PREVIEW: LARRY LEE
SERIES PREVIEW BY BASEBALL AMERICA
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly, ranked No. 27 in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll and coming off a 40-win season which included a second-place Big West Conference finish and its second NCAA Division I regional playoff berth, opens the 2014 season Friday night with the first of three weekend games against No. 22 Kansas State in Baggett Stadium (cap.: 1,734).
Game times are 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. The games will be aired live on ESPN Radio 1280 and/or the internet at www.GoPoly.com. Video stream and live stats also will be available.
Both teams broke school Division I records for wins in a season and earned NCAA regional berths a year ago -- Kansas State advancing to a Super Regional -- and the two squads are expecting even better results in 2014. Cal Poly is picked to finish second in the Big West in a preseason vote of the nine head coaches, the Mustangs' highest such ranking ever, while the Wildcats have been picked to win the Big 12 Conference title. Kansas State was No. 5 in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll a year ago and won the championship.
Cal Poly, 40-19 a year ago for its first 40-win season in Division I, returns 19 letter winners, including eight position starters and seven pitchers, off its 2013 squad which swept five series and won 10 of 15 weekend series. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs went 1-2 in the Los Angeles Regional hosted by UCLA.
Cal Poly won its first seven games of the 2013 season and sprinted to a 13-1 start. Never losing more than three games in a row, Cal Poly steadily climbed 17 games over the .500 mark during the next seven weeks of play. A late-season surge with 11 wins in their last 14 games enabled the Mustangs to post their third 40-win season in school history, falling one victory shy of the record of 41 wins in both 1977 and 1992.
Topping Cal Poly's list of returnees are senior third baseman Jimmy Allen (.299, 39 RBI) and junior relief pitcher Reed Reilly (2.29 ERA, 14 saves), both of whom were drafted last June but chose to return to Cal Poly for another season.
Also returning are outfielders Nick Torres (pictured above at left) (.333, seven home runs, 49 RBI) and Jordan Ellis (.323, 18 RBI), infielders Tim Wise, Peter Van Gansen and John Schuknecht, catcher Chris Hoo and designated hitter Brian Mundell (.265, 11 home runs, 42 RBI).
Joining Reilly on the pitching staff are starters Matt Imhof (pictured above at right) (7-3, 2.74 ERA), Casey Bloomquist (6-2, 5.02 ERA) and Bryan Granger (5-4, 5.37 ERA) and relievers Taylor Chris (1-0, 2.55 ERA) and Danny Zandona (2-1, 4.50 ERA), among others.
"I feel confident we can fill the gaps we have this year and I hope to achieve the same kind of success as we did last year," said Lee. "We should be much better offensively and defensively and we have strong pitching at the top of the rotation, but the deciding factor will be how our freshman arms develop.
"We have the ability to be very strong up the middle defensively," Lee added, citing Hoo behind the plate, Van Gansen at shortstop, Mark Mathias and Schuknecht at second base and Ellis in center field. We probably will use a few different lineups early in the season and figure out what lineup in a given series will lead to wins. A lot will be predicated on the opposition and who we have on the mound.
"We should be better defensively than a year ago, but it all will depend on if we want to use an offensive-minded lineup or a defensive-minded lineup."
Kansas State, 45-19 a year ago, Big 12 Conference champion and an NCAA Super Regional team -- falling in a best-of-three series at Oregon State -- returns 19 letter winners as well, including six position starters and eight pitchers. The Wildcats lost two starting pitchers, but return junior right-handers Nate Williams (4-3, 2.81 ERA) and Matt Wivinis (6-2, 4.72 ERA), who went the distance in a 10-4 win over Cal Poly a year ago in Manhattan, Kansas. Closer Jake Matthys (9-2, 2.05 ERA, 9 saves) also returns.
Coached by Brad Hill (11th season, 338-243-3, Emporia State '85), Kansas State also returns senior second baseman Ross Kivett (.360, 39 RBI), junior shortstop Austin Fisher (.361, 38 RBI), junior first baseman Shane Conlon (.341, seven home runs, 28 RBI) and senior catcher Blair DeBord (.327, 37 RBI). Junior designated hitter and outfielder Mitch Meyer (.281, 34 RBI) leads the returning outfielders.
Kansas State has made four NCAA regional appearances in its 113-year baseball history, won a conference title for the first time in 80 years last spring and its 45 victories in 2013 are a school record. All four Kansas State appearances in the NCAA postseason are in the last 10 years under Hill, who coached for nine seasons at Central Missouri State (418-91) before he was hired at Kansas State.
Kansas State is expected to start sophomore right-hander Levi MaVorhis (5-0, 4.77 ERA in 2013) on Friday night, senior southpaw Jared Moore (4-0, 3.73) on Saturday night and sophomore righty Jordan Witcig (0-0, 3.68) on Sunday.
Cal Poly will counter with Imhof, a member of USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team last summer, on Friday night, freshman right-hander Slater Lee on Saturday night and sophomore righty Casey Bloomquist on Sunday. Imhof, Cal Poly's Saturday starter a year ago, replaces 13-game winner Joey Wagman in Friday's leadoff role.
A year ago, Cal Poly surpassed the 30-win mark for the ninth time in the last 14 years and clinched its 11th winning season since 2000 by sweeping UC Riverside in early May. The Mustangs moved 21 games above the .500 mark for the first time in their 19-year Division I history by sweeping Cal State Northridge on May 17-19. Cal Poly was 13-1 on the year after sweeping a doubleheader at Kansas State by 13-10 and 6-2 scores in early March.
Lee, in his 12th season with the Mustangs, has guided Cal Poly to a quartet of 3-0 starts with season-opening series sweeps over San Diego in 2005, Fresno State in 2006, Oklahoma State in 2012 and San Francisco last year. The Mustangs have finished in the upper half of the conference standings 10 times in the last 12 years.
Lee (349-272-2) earned his 300th win on May 5, 2012, in a 12-7 decision at UC Davis. Lee surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series a week earlier. Steve McFarland was 290-257 in 10 seasons (1984-93) at the helm of the Mustangs while Ritch Price was 217-228-1 in Cal Poly's first eight years of play in Division I (1995-2002).
After the season-opening series with Kansas State, the Mustangs play 11 of their next 12 games on the road. Next week, Cal Poly visits Santa Clara on Tuesday night and defending national champion UCLA for a three-game series in Jackie Robinson Stadium next Friday through Sunday.