SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (16-18 overall, 3-6 Big West), coming off a Big West series win over UC Davis inside Baggett Stadium, takes a quick one-game break from the conference schedule Tuesday afternoon by visiting Pepperdine (17-17, 9-6 West Coast).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Waves of third-year head coach Rick Hirtensteiner square off at 3 p.m. inside Eddy D. Field Stadium (cap.: 1,800) in Malibu. 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.
After losing three of four games in the College Baseball Classic hosted by the city of Surprise, Ariz., to open the season, defeating Gonzaga 8-7 in 10 innings on Scott Ogrin's home run, Cal Poly earned victories over No. 4-ranked Arkansas and Michigan in the seven-team Tony Gwynn Legacy on the last weekend of February.
Alex McKenna's ninth-inning single to right-center field snapped a 3-3 tie as Cal Poly edged Arkansas 4-3 and sophomore catcher Myles Emmerson knocked in four runs with three singles and a triple while freshman right-hander Darren Nelson pitched seven scoreless innings of one-hit baseball in the Mustangs' 8-1 triumph over Michigan.
Opening the home schedule in early March, Cal Poly split four games with Pacific, then went back out on the road and, after winning the series opener at Nebraska 14-8, scoring 10 runs in the final three innings to wipe out an 8-4 deficit, dropped three straight. The streak was snapped March 12 against New Mexico even though the Mustangs hit into four double plays and surrendered a 4-2 lead in the final two innings of regulation. Sophomore right fielder Bradlee Beesley produced his third career four-hit game and junior catcher Nick Meyer scored on a wild pitch in the 10th inning for the 5-4 walk-off win.
Cal Poly lost two of three games to No. 25 San Diego State, taking the middle game 5-4 on a walk-off wild pitch as the Aztecs were trying to intentionally walk Colby Barrick. Meyer, who scored the winning run again, earned his second career four-hit game. The Mustangs closed a seven-game home stand by sweeping Dartmouth by scores of 10-3, 11-2 and 5-0 as Beesley went 6-for-11 with his fourth career four-hit game in the opener and the pitching staff compiled a 1.33 ERA.
Cal Poly closed the month of March and opened Big West play at CSUN, dropping 5-3 and 10-7 decisions before posting a 5-4 triumph by scoring twice in the eighth inning. Cal Poly had the lead in all three contests. Five Mustang pitchers combined on a five-hit shutout and 11 strikeouts in a midweek 6-0 win over CSU Bakersfield before Cal Poly ventured to Big West favorite Cal State Fullerton and fell 5-1, 5-4 and 6-3. The Mustangs struck out 32 times in the three contests, hit just .202 and were 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position.
Last week, the Mustangs rallied from an 8-0 deficit to beat CSU Bakersfield 11-8, then won two of three Big West games at home against UC Davis, earning 8-7 and 7-4 victories before falling 16-10. Cal Poly hit a season-high .386 in the series, Nick Meyer going 7-for-14 and Elijah Skipps belting two home runs, including a grand slam in the middle game.
Lee welcomed back 19 letter winners this spring, including eight position players who made 25 or more starts in 2017, and nine pitchers, six of whom pitched 25 or more innings. In addition, pitchers Jarred Zill and Thomas Triantos, both of whom underwent Tommy John surgery a year ago, are back.
"We are strong up the middle with Nick Meyer behind the plate, Kyle Marinconz and Scott Ogrin in the middle of the infield and Alex McKenna in center field," noted Lee. "All have lots of game experience and each one of them has improved on the defensive side. You want to be strong up the middle and we are. They all understand how to play their positions."
McKenna, a first-team All-Big West outfielder a year ago after hitting .360 with 11 doubles, five home runs, 13 steals and 31 RBI as a sophomore, anchors the Mustang outfield this spring after a solid summer in the Cape Cod League with Yarmouth-Dennis. McKenna was Cal Poly's leadoff hitter over the final 43 games of the 2017 season and produced a team-leading 30 multiple-hit games, including 11 three-hit contests. He also led the Mustangs with 10 multiple-RBI games.
"McKenna is coming off a very good season for us, and playing in the Cape allowed him to see power arms on a daily basis, which has really helped him develop as a hitter," said Lee. "Hitting from the leadoff spot is where it starts, and Alex has the ability not only to hit for average, but also for power. He is the leader of our outfield group and continues to improve on the defensive side."
A second-team All-Big West honoree as a freshman in 2017, sophomore Bradlee Beesley started in six different positions, including 24 games at third, and hit .305 with 13 doubles, three triples and 14 RBI, mostly from the No. 2 spot in the order. He is a mainstay in right field this spring and, after a .139 start in the first nine games, has elevated his batting average 126 points to .265.
Senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick sits atop all Mustang hitters with a .360 average while McKenna, 6-for-13 in the CSUN series, 5-for-12 against Cal State Fullerton and 6-for-15 versus UC Davis, has compiled a .324 mark. He also tops the squad in doubles (9) and multiple-hit games (15). Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .311 with eight doubles, four home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 26 RBI.
Junior catcher Nick Meyer is 10-for-22 over his last five games to raise his average to .306 while junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz is next at .304 with four home runs and 21 RBI, elevating his average 66 points over the last seven weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield.
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .293 by hitting .310 since and including a doubleheader sweep against Pacific on March 3.
Pepperdine was 12-15 with series wins over CSUN and BYU and a 2-2 split with Louisiana Tech before claiming a 2-1 series win against Pacific and sweeping Santa Clara last weekend by scores of 7-0, 6-2 and 9-8 to even its record at 17-17.
Thirty-four games into the season, Pepperdine is hitting .248 as a team with 22 steals in 32 attempts, a 3.75 staff ERA and a .977 fielding percentage with 29 errors. First baseman Brandt Belk is hitting .333 with seven doubles while center fielder Cory Wills sports a .299 mark with six doubles and 14 RBI. Outfielder Matthew Kanfer is next with a .294 average, including seven doubles, three home runs and 14 RBI. Pitcher/outfielder/designated hitter Jordan Qsar, the team RBI leader with 36, is hitting .252 with six doubles and six home runs.
Tuesday's starter for Cal Poly is expected to be junior right-hander Cam Schneider (3-2, 5.70 ERA, three saves) (pictured above). He will face Pepperdine junior right-hander Christian Stoutland (3-2, 4.62 ERA).
Pepperdine has 22 lettermen returning off last year's 20-32 squad that finished eighth in the West Coast standings at 8-19. Among the returnees are six position starters and nine pitchers.
Hirtensteiner (third season, 66-73, Pepperdine '89), 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 62 times in baseball since the series began in 1947. The Waves hold a 37-25 advantage. The two teams split a pair of midweek games each of the last four years. Pepperdine also earned 2-1 and 10-6 wins over the Mustangs in the 2014 San Luis Obispo Regional. Cal Poly is 15-22 against Pepperdine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
Larry Lee is 12-15 against his alma mater while Rick Hirtensteiner is 2-2 against Cal Poly.
Cal Poly will play 16 games against 2017 NCAA Regional participants this spring, has a pair of home stands of at least seven games, 30 home games in all and will play four contests against Pac-12 schools, including a three-game set against UCLA inside Baggett Stadium in late April.
A year ago, the Mustangs won 20 of their last 32 contests, and captured seven of eight conference series en route to a second-place finish at 16-8. Cal Poly swept just one series last season -- at UC Santa Barbara in the penultimate series of the year -- and won eight of its 15 series overall. The Mustangs, however, were just 12-20 against non-conference opponents and won only one of the seven non-conference series -- against Wichita State.
Cal Poly has had just four losing seasons since 2000 and has reached the 30-win mark 11 times this century. The Mustangs have won 161 of their last 220 home games for a 73.1 winning percentage. Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, captured its first Big West championship in 2014 and has four second-place finishes, four thirds and six fourths since becoming a member of the conference in 1997. Cal Poly has finished in the top four of the Big West standings 13 times in Lee's previous 15 seasons with the Mustangs. Cal State Fullerton is the only other Big West team that can make the same claim.
All 56 Mustang games last spring were played in the Golden State. This season Cal Poly opened the campaign with four games in Surprise, Ariz., visited Nebraska for a four-game series last month and travels to Hawai'i for a three-game Big West series in early May.
Over the last six seasons from 2012-17, Cal Poly has won 210 games, the third-highest total among the 24 California schools with Division I baseball programs. Averaging 35 wins per season during those six campaigns, the victory total is seventh among 46 schools in the NCAA's West Region. In addition, from 2012-14, Cal Poly averaged 41 wins a year with 123 victories, more than any other Division I team in California, and the Mustangs have averaged 32 victories per season under Lee's guidance.
Lee (499-382-2) 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 15 clubs at Cal Poly 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, 2017 against Gonzaga.
Cal Poly returns home this weekend to host defending Big West champion Long Beach State for a three-game series Friday through Sunday. The opener at 7 p.m. will be televised by ESPNU while Saturday's contest starts at 6 p.m. and Sunday's series finale begins at 1 o'clock.