Cal Poly Wraps Up 2019 Home Schedule by Hosting UC Riverside

Cal Poly Wraps Up 2019 Home Schedule by Hosting UC Riverside
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (24-26 overall, 13-5 Big West), second in the Big West Conference with sweeps over CSUN, UC Davis and Long Beach State, closes out the 2019 home schedule this weekend by hosting UC Riverside (17-32, 6-12 Big West) for a three-game Big West series. Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Highlanders of fifth-year head coach Troy Percival clash Friday night at 6 and Saturday and Sunday at 1 o'clock inside Baggett Stadium (3,138).
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. Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at
Cal Poly has won 22 of its last 39 games after a 2-9 start, with sweeps against Columbia, CSUN, UC Davis and Long Beach State. The Mustangs climbed three games above the .500 mark at 20-17 with its sweep of the Dirtbags, but have lost nine of their last 13 contests, slipping two games behind UC Santa Barbara in the Big West standings. Cal Poly still controls its own destiny as wins in its final six games will result in a Big West title.

Highlander Highlights

Coming off a 19-33 campaign, including a 7-17 mark for ninth place in the Big West, UC Riverside returned 19 letter winners, including six position starters and 10 pitchers. Top returnees are outfielder Matt Hardy (.311, 32 RBI in 2018), first baseman Connor Cannon (.282, 10 home runs, 33 RBI) and outfielder Dean Miller (.263, 23 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Cole Percival (5-4, 3.19 ERA in 2018), Jared Noonan (1-3, 5.35 ERA) and Kevin West (0-3, 5.64 ERA).
Coached by Percival (fifth season, 99-166, UC Riverside '91), UC Riverside has a .272 team batting average through 49 games. The Highlanders have stolen 31 of 43 bases, sport a 6.82 staff ERA and have compiled a .954 fielding percentage, ninth in the Big West, with 82 errors in 49 games. 
The Highlanders opened their 2019 season by losing six of their first eight games against Nebraska and San Jose State, but rebounded with a three-game sweep over Cal Baptist. UC Riverside then went on a 2-15 skid with single wins over Tulane and UC Davis and have dropped Big West series to the Aggies, CSUN, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton. The Highlanders won two of three games against first-place UC Santa Barbara and fourth-place Hawai'i.
Top Highlander hitters to date are Miller (.356, 12 doubles, 14 home runs, 43 RBI),  first baseman Yeager Taylor (.331, eight doubles, four homers, 31 RBI), outfielder Travis Bohall (.341, 13 steals in 17 attempts) and Cannon (.331, eight doubles, Big West-leading 17 home runs, 42 RBI). The pitching staff is led by right-handers Riley Ohl (3-5, 4.83 ERA) and Jeremiah Priddy (0-6, 5.96 ERA) along with southpaw Shamus Lyons (3-5, 6.26 ERA). Five different relievers have saves.
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.
Cal Poly and UC Riverside have met 201 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 116-85 advantage, sweeping the Highlanders to close out the 2018 season in Riverside and beating the Highlanders twice in three games at Baggett Stadium in 2017 with 1-0 an 5-0 shutouts before falling in the finale 4-0. Cal Poly swept the Highlanders in 2012, 2013 and 2015 as well and is 19-5 against UC Riverside over the last eight years and 34-20 since moving to Division I prior to the 1995 season. 
Larry Lee is 31-17 against UC Riverside while Troy Percival is 3-9 against Cal Poly.
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.

Mustang Morsels

Lee welcomed back 18 letter winners this spring, including five position players who made 25 or more starts in 2018, and eight pitchers, three of whom 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. After hitting .517 in the first seven games this season, Beesley has cooled off, sporting a .284 mark with 32 RBI. He was 7-for-11 with four RBIs in two games against Pepperdine.
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 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).
Leading the team 13 weeks into the 2019 season is freshman designated hitter Conagher Sands (pictured above) with a .340 average and a 23-game hitting streak, third-longest in Cal Poly's 25-year Division I history. He is followed by Samuelson with a .294 average and 32 RBI, sophomore right fielder Elijah Greene at .270 with five doubles, a triple and 16 RBI, and middle infielder Connor Gurnik at .272 with seven doubles, a triple, one home run and 15 RBI. 
Sands' hitting streak is the longest active streak in Division I. The longest of the season for any player is 25 games by Jack Gethings of Fairfield, a senior shortstop whose streak was snapped March 30. Dylan Rock of Texas-sab Abtonio and Joseph Carpenter of Delaware had 24-game streaks snapped in late april.
Cal Poly's weekend rotation in the first eight weeks of the 2019 season consisted of senior righty Jarred Zill (2-5, 3.38 ERA), junior right-hander Bobby Ay (7-1, 3.77 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Darren Nelson (2-5, 5.10 ERA). Zill missed his last five starts due to injury with freshman southpaw Chase Watkins (0-2, 5.58 ERA) stepping in. Freshman Bryan Woo (1-2, 9.14 ERA), also a right-hander, pitched five innings for the win against Columbia on March 9, was Cal Poly's fourth starter in a pair of four-game series and also has started two midweek games.
Sunday will be Senior Day with Jarred Zill, Dylan Doherty and Michael Clark to be honored in a pregame ceremony.

It's a Wrap

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, wrapped up a 12-game home stand five weeks ago with a 6-6 mark, will play 30 home games in all and had 10 contests scheduled 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 — were 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 182 of their last 256 home games for a 71.2 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 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 made 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 (537-417-2) reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 537 wins to date are No. 2 in the conference behind Fresno State's Bob Bennett (547) and, during the UC Davis series, Lee surpassed Cal Poly alum and former Long Beach State head coach Dave Snow with his 219th conference win. Snow guided the Dirtbags to 218 Big West wins from 1989-2001.
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 997 career wins at Cuesta and Cal Poly, Lee is just three victories shy of the 1,000 mark.
Cal Poly wraps up the 2019 regular season next week by visiting UC Santa Barbara for a three-game Big West series Thursday through Saturday.
Photo above of Conagher Sands courtesy of Owen Main |