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Cal Poly to Visit Baylor This Weekend For Second Time in Five Years

Cal Poly to Visit Baylor This Weekend For Second Time in Five Years
WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | BAYLOR | BIG WEST
AUDIO STREAM: FRIDAY | SATURDAY | SUNDAY
LIVE STATS: FRIDAY | SATURDAY | SUNDAY
VIDEO STREAM: FRIDAY | SATURDAY | SUNDAY
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (6-9 overall, 0-0 Big West), coming off a four-game weekend series sweep against Ivy League member Columbia, including three one-run decisions, wraps up a four-game road trip with a three-game non-conference series against the Baylor Bears (11-4 overall, 0-0 Big 12) at Baylor Ballpark (cap.: 5,000) in Waco, Texas. 
 
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Bears of fourth-year head coach Steve Rodriguez square off at 4:35 p.m. Friday, 1:05 p.m. Saturday and 11:05 a.m. Sunday (all times Pacific). All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio (1280 AM and 101.7 FM) with Chris Sylvester providing the play-by-play. Sunday's game also will be televised by Fox Sports Southwest (available on the FoxSportsGo app and FoxSportsGo.com). Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
 
Coming off a 37-21 campaign, including a 12-12 mark for fourth place in the Big 12 Conference and an appearance in the NCAA Houston Regional, Baylor returns 20 letter winners, including all nine position starters and nine pitchers. Top returnees are outfielder Richard Cunningham (.342, nine home runs, 38 RBI in 2018), catcher/first baseman Andy Thomas (.324, 34 RBI) and outfielder T.J. Raguse (.324, 19 RBI). The pitching staff is paced by southpaw Cody Bradford (7-6, 2.51 ERA in 2018) and righty Hayden Keller (8-4, 3.81 ERA).
 
Baylor raced to an 8-0 start with a four-game sweep against Holy Cross, three versus Cornell and a midweek win over Dallas Baptist and was ranked as high as No. 12 in the polls. The Bears, however, lost two of three games in the 2019 Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston and opened Big 12 play last weekend by falling twice in three games at home against Nebraska. Baylor defeated Abilene Christian 6-3 Wednesday night in Waco.
 
Baylor's top hitters four weeks into the 2019 season are third baseman David Wendzel (.407, eight doubles, 4 RBI, six of six steals), Cunningham (.333, seven doubles, nine RBI) and shortstop Nick Loftin (.348, six doubles, 10 RBI). The Bears are hitting .318 as a team with 17 steals in 23 attempts, a 3.40 staff ERA and a .976 fielding percentage with 13 errors in 15 contests.
 
The Bears have won six conference titles, capturing the Big 12 Conference's tournament crown in 2018, and have made 20 NCAA regional appearances, including trips to the postseason in 2017 and 2018. Baylor, which won 22 of its last 25 regular season games in 2018, also has qualified for the College World Series three times, the last in 2005.
 
Baylor is coached by Steve Rodriguez, who has compiled a 106-77 record in three-plus seasons at the helm of the Bears. Rodriguez was head coach at Pepperdine for 12 seasons, posting a 401-300 mark, and was an assistant at Pepperdine for four seasons before he was elevated to head coach shortly after the 2003 season. He guided the Waves to five straight NCAA regional appearances (2004-08), eight total, and six West Coast Conference titles (2004-06, 2012 and 2014-15). Rodriguez, an All-American second baseman on Pepperdine's 1992 national championship team, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1992 and played professionally for seven seasons with the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers and Expos organizations, reaching the Major Leagues with the Tigers and Red Sox, both in 1995. He was a two-time All-American at Pepperdine.
 
Cal Poly and Baylor met for the first time in a three-game series opening the 2015 season, also in Waco. The Bears swept the series with 8-6, 8-6 and 6-0 victories. The Mustangs also visited the state of Texas for series at Houston in 2009 and at Rice in 2007.
 
Prior to last weekend's sweep against Columbia, Cal Poly's only wins in 2019 were a pair of midweek triumphs against Central California rival and future Big West Conference member CSU Bakersfield — 7-1 in Bakersfield on Feb. 19 and a 2-0 shutout in Baggett Stadium on Feb. 26. The Mustangs were swept in weekend series by Oklahoma, Cal and Washington. On Tuesday, Cal Poly led Pepperdine 11-6 when play in Malibu was suspended in the eighth inning due to darkness. The game will be completed May 7 in San Luis Obispo.
 
Lee welcomed back 18 letter winners this spring, including five position players who made 25 or more starts in 2018, and eight pitchers, including three who have made 10 or more career starts.
The list of veterans is led by junior center fielder Bradlee Beesley, who hit .277 with 12 doubles and 33 RBI a year ago, was a second-team All-Big West selection in 2017 after hitting .305 and also had a solid Cape Cod League season with Yarmouth-Dennis last summer, hitting .368.
 
Beesley went 7-for-12 (.583) in the Oklahoma series with three RBI and 6-for-13 with a double and one RBI versus Cal. The junior from San Leandro, Calif., was hitting .517 seven games into the season before cooling off and currently sports a .323 average with five doubles, a triple and 12 RBI. Middle infielder Connor Gurnik is hitting .326 while sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene has a team-leading .328 average with two doubles, seven RBI and just five strikeouts in 69 plate appearances.
 
In addition to Beesley, also returning are sophomore first baseman Tate Samuelson (.280, five home runs, 38 RBI in 2018), senior shortstop Dylan Doherty and sophomore third baseman Nick DiCarlo, both .226 hitters a year ago. Junior utility player Scott Ogrin, who hit .266 with 26 RBI last spring, will  miss at least the first five weeks of the 2019 season with a foot injury.
 
The pitching corps is led by sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (5-4, 4.79 ERA in 2018), senior righty Jarred Zill (0-1, 3.00 ERA in five starts a year ago), who missed most of both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to injury, and junior right-hander Bobby Ay (1-6, 5.40 ERA in 2017, made just one appearance in 2018 before he was sidelined with an injury).
 
Last weekend against Columbia, the Mustangs hit .284 with eight doubles, their first three triples of the year and Samuelson hit the team's initial home run of 2019, a two-run shot to left field that tied Sunday's series finale at 2-2. Samuelson's groundout in the fifth drove in the go-ahead run in a 5-4 victory, the third one-run triumph in the series for the Mustangs. Cal Poly won the first three games by 3-2, 2-1 (12 innings) and 13-6 scores. Greene's six hits, including a double, paced the Mustangs in the series. Cal Poly is now 9-0 all-time against the Lions.
 
A year ago, the Mustangs were No. 1 in the Big West in team hitting, on-base percentage, hits, doubles, triples, walks and turning double plays. Twenty of Cal Poly's 24 Big West games were decided by four or fewer runs. The Mustangs defeated UC Davis 16-0 and the three remaining games were six-run decisions, Cal Poly winning twice, and the Mustangs won six of 13 weekend series, sweeping Dartmouth, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside.
 
Including this season, the Mustangs have been tormented by slow starts — 3-11 before finishing 28-28 (won seven of last nine games) in 2017, 6-10 before wrapping up the 2018 campaign 30-27 (winning their final seven contests), and 2-9 prior to the Columbia series sweep. Cal Poly also opened the 2015 season 7-14 but rallied to finish 27-27 (winning 17 of its last 26 games).
 
Cal Poly will play 17 games against 2018 NCAA Regional participants this spring, has a 12-game home stand in late March and early April, 30 home games in all and will play 10 contests against Pac-12 schools — three-game series against Cal and USC at home and versus College World Series participant Washington and a single game against Stanford on the road. The Mustangs' first three series on the road this season — at Oklahoma, Washington and Baylor — are against teams that earned regional berths a year ago along with Cal State Fullerton, Saint Mary's and Stanford.
 
Cal Poly has had just three losing seasons since 2000 and has reached the 30-win mark 12 times this century. The Mustangs have won 173 of their last 239 home games for a 72.4 winning percentage.
 
Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, captured its first Big West championship in 2014 and has five second-place finishes, four thirds and six fourths since becoming a member of the conference in 1997. Cal Poly has finished in the top five of the Big West standings 14 times in Lee's previous 16 seasons with the Mustangs. Cal State Fullerton is the only other Big West team that can make the same claim.
 
While all 56 Mustang games in 2017 were played in the Golden State, Cal Poly played four games in a tournament at Surprise, Ariz., visited Nebraska for a four-game series and traveled to Hawai'i for a three-game Big West series in 2018. In addition to Oklahoma and Washington, the Mustangs make another out-of-state trip to Baylor this spring.
 
Over the last seven seasons from 2012-18, Cal Poly has won 240 games, the third-highest total among the 24 California schools with Division I programs. Averaging 35 wins per season during those seven campaigns, the victory total is eighth 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 32.5 victories per season under Lee's guidance.
 
Lee (519-400-2) reached the 500-victory milestone last April 20 with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 519 wins to date are No. 2 in the conference behind Fresno State's Bob Bennett (547) and Lee's 212 conference wins also are No. 2 in the Big West behind Long Beach State's Dave Snow (218).
 
Lee surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series in 2011. Lee earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13, 2017 against Gonzaga. With 979 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just 21 victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
 
Next week, Cal Poly hosts Saint Mary's for a four-game non-conference series (Friday at 6 p.m., a Saturday doubleheader at 1 p.m. and the series finale Sunday at 1 o'clock.
 
Photos courtesy of Michel Lim | Michel Lim Photography