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Cal Poly to Visit UC Riverside for Weekend Big West Baseball Series

Cal Poly to Visit UC Riverside for Weekend Big West Baseball Series

WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | UCR | BIG WEST
AUDIO STREAM:
   FRIDAY | SATURDAY | SUNDAY
LIVE STATS:
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SCHUKNECHT HONORED BY BIG WEST

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (29-22, 9-9 Big West), all alone in fourth place in the Big West Conference standings after winning its series at home against UC Irvine, plays its final road games of the 2016 regular season this weekend, visiting UC Riverside (22-27, 8-10 Big West) for a three-game Big West series.

First pitches at the Riverside Sports Complex (cap.: 2,500) are set for 6 p.m. PDT both Friday and Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. All three games of the series will be aired live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Dave Grant providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats as well as an audio stream are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.

Ranked No. 19 three weeks ago by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper before losing eight of their next nine games, including getting swept at Long Beach State and CSUN, Cal Poly returned 16 lettermen (two position starters and eight pitchers (four with six or more starts in 2015), but more than two-thirds of the 34-man roster are freshmen or sophomores. The nine returning position players, starters and reserves, hit a combined .230 a year ago and, while eight of last year's 13 pitchers return, their win-loss record was 15-18 with an 8.70 ERA.

Despite all the youth, Cal Poly has won eight of 13 weekend series, including victories over No. 14 UCLA and No. 19 Michigan and a sweep of No. 11 UC Santa Barbara. The Mustangs, who hit just .180 against Long Beach State and .177 against CSUN, exploded for a .337 mark in winning two of three games at home against UC Irvine last weekend. The Mustangs, who averaged just 2.9 runs and 7.2 hits in their previous 10 games, hit six doubles and five home runs, scoring 28 runs on 35 hits in the three games as the Anteater pitching staff compiled an 8.28 ERA. Cal Poly earned its second win of the year when trailing after six innings Tuesday night, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 triumph at CSU Bakersfield and snapping an eight-game road losing streak.

UC Riverside has won series against CSU Bakersfield, UC Davis, Long Beach State and CSUN and split four games against Kansas State, but the Highlanders have lost five of their last six Big West games, swept by Cal State Fullerton two weeks ago and losing two of three games at Hawai'i last weekend. UC Riverside is 13-12 at home this season and 9-15 on the road.

UC Riverside returned 17 players, including six position starters and six pitchers, off a team which finished 15-40 a year ago and ninth in the Big West Conference at 4-20.

Topping the list of returning veterans are outfielder Vince Fernandez (.316, seven home runs, 14 RBI in 2015), infielder Cody Sporrer (.295, 15 RBI) and utility player Mark Contreras (.282, 23 RBI). The pitching staff is led by Angel Landazuri (1-4, 3.55 ERA in 2015), Keaton Leach (3-4, 5.74 ERA) and closer Ryan Lillie (0-3, 4.32 ERA, six saves), all right-handers.

Coached by Troy Percival (second year, 37-67, UC Riverside '91), UC Riverside has a .266 team batting average through 49 games, led by Fernandez (.352, eight doubles, seven home runs, 36 RBI), Contreras (.297, 11 doubles, 20 RBI), outfielder Austin Colvin (.289, seven RBI) and shortstop Colby Schultz (.285, six doubles, three home runs, 16 RBI). The Highlanders have stolen 17 of 36 bases and sport a 4.33 staff ERA and .973 fielding percentage with 48 errors in 49 games.

Southpaw Austin Sodders (5-4, 2.79 ERA) is expected to start Friday, followed by right-handers Richard Delgado (0-7, 5.02 ERA) on Saturday and Angel Landazuri (4-5, 5.63 ERA) on Sunday. Cal Poly will counter with lefty Kyle Smith (5-5, 3.53 ERA) and righties Eric Uelmen (5-1, 3.18 ERA) and Jarred Zill (4-3, 2.65 ERA), respectively.

UC Riverside, a member of the Big West since 2002, claimed the Big West title in 2007 and has qualified for the NCAA Division I regionals twice -- in 2003 and 2007. The Highlanders also earned NCAA Division II playoff berths nine times, capturing the national title in both 1977 and 1982.

Percival, who replaced Doug Smith on July 29, 2014, was a catcher during his three years with the Highlanders and was drafted after his junior year by the California Angels in the sixth round of the 1990 Amateur Draft. Following a year as a catcher in the minors, Percival was converted to a relief pitcher, and during his rookie season of 1995, he finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, going 3-2 with three saves and a 1.95 ERA, striking out 94 batters in 74.0 innings. The Angels made him their full-time closer in 1996, and he rewarded them by recording 36 saves and striking out 100 batters in 74.0 innings.

Percival earned his first of four All-Star nods that season as he finished fourth in the league in saves. By the time his professional career ended in 2009, Percival had 358 saves on his big-league résumé, ninth on Major League Baseball's all-time career list. Since his retirement from major league baseball, Percival worked as a volunteer pitching coach for Riverside Poly High School in Riverside (2010-12), and as head coach at his high school alma mater, Moreno Valley High School (2013-14). He also spent a year working in the Angels organization as a roving pitching instructor.

Cal Poly and UC Riverside have met 192 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1970. The Mustangs hold a 110-82 advantage, sweeping the Highlanders 6-2, 7-6 and 11-1 a year ago in Baggett Stadium. Cal Poly, which won two of three games in 2014 in Riverside, swept the Highlanders in both 2012 and 2013. Cal Poly, 13-2 against UC Riverside over the last five years, is 28-17 against the Highlanders since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 25-14 against UC Riverside while Troy Percival is 0-3 against Cal Poly.

Cal Poly's 2016 roster is led by catcher/first baseman Brett Barbier (.253, nine doubles, four triples, three home runs, 34 RBI in 2015) and outfielder John Schuknecht (.237, six home runs, 24 RBI), the only two returning starting position players.

The Mustangs have used 10 position players and eight pitchers who are wearing a Cal Poly uniform for the first time this season. The Mustangs' lineup in the season-opening Pacific series included 11 freshmen (nine true freshmen and a pair of redshirts) as well as three community college transfers. In the second game of the Grand Canyon series in mid-March, six true freshmen were in the starting lineup along with one transfer.

Cal Poly's pitching staff is led by sophomore southpaw Kyle Smith (5-7, 3.95 ERA in 2015) and sophomore righty Erich Uelmen (0-1, 7.08 ERA). Third spot in the weekend rotation has been filled with junior right-hander Slater Lee (1-1, 6.27 ERA in 2015), freshman right-hander Cam Schneider and, since early April, sophomore righty Jarred Zill (4-1, 3.18 ERA).

Topping the list of relievers are junior right-hander Justin Calomeni (1-3, 5.00 ERA in 2015), freshman southpaws Thomas Triantos (Livermore High School) and Justin Bruihl (Casa Grande High School in Petaluma) along with sophomore right-hander Andrew Bernstein (3-3, 5.01 ERA) and redshirt freshmen Austin Dondanville and Spencer Howard.

Through 51 games, junior Brett Barbier is Cal Poly's top hitter with a .368 average, 12 doubles, three home runs and 27 RBI, followed by sophomore outfielder Josh George (pictured above) (.299, five doubles, 13 RBI), freshman middle infielder Kyle Marinconz (.294, 13 doubles, 20 RBI) and senior right fielder John Schuknecht (.282, 13 doubles, six home runs, 43 RBI).

Barbier had a 16-game hitting streak and a 40-game streak of reaching base safely snapped April 30 by Long Beach State, also had a 12-game streak earlier this year and currently has a 10-game streak. Junior third baseman Michael Sanderson sports a .277 average with 10 doubles and 29 RBI while freshman catcher Nick Meyer has a .276 mark with six doubles and 21 RBI. Meyer also has thrown out 21 would-be base stealers and has picked off 10 other runners.

Freshman center fielder Alex McKenna (Pacific series), hitting .269 with six home runs and 27 RBI, and Schuknecht (San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine) have earned Big West Field Player of the Week honors this season while Uelmen (Sacramento State) and Kyle Smith (UC Santa Barbara) have been named Big West Pitcher of the Week. McKenna went 8-for-14 and hit for the cycle in the San Jose State series, bumping his average up 41 points, while Schuknecht was 6-for-12 in the UC Santa Barbara series with five RBI and four runs scored. Schuknecht also hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in eight runs in the UC Irvine series.

Cal Poly owns a .270 team batting average, has stolen 30 of 44 bases, sports a .963 fielding percentage with 73 errors in 51 games and has compiled a 3.98 staff ERA.

Cal Poly has clinched its 14th winning season since 2000. The Mustangs were  17-11 at home last season and have won 134 of their last 176 home games for a winning percentage of 76.1 percent. Cal Poly won each of its four Big West series at home in 2015, compiling a 10-2 mark, but lost all four conference road series, two games to one, despite winning the opener each time.

One year after capturing its first Big West title, Cal Poly opened the 2015 season 1-6 and was eight games under the .500 mark before turning things around. The Mustangs hit .303 over their final 23 games, improved their defense by fielding at a .980 clip, won 17 of their final 26 games (including 13 of 15 at home) and made a run for another Big West title. Cal Poly has finished fourth or higher in the Big West 12 times in its last 14 seasons and has posted ten 30-victory campaigns since 2000.

Lee (452-333-2), in his 14th season with the Mustangs, has guided Cal Poly to 11 finishes in the upper half of the Big West standings in the last 13 years. He 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.

Next week, Cal Poly closes out the 2016 regular season with a three-game Big West series Thursday through Saturday against UC Davis in Baggett Stadium.