SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (17-10, 1-2 Big West), off to its best start in three years following four series wins and a 2-2 mark in the Aztec Invitational, concludes an 11-game homestand this weekend with a three-game Big West Conference series against UC Irvine (17-9, 3-0 Big West) in Baggett Stadium (cap.: 1,734).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs will play the Anteaters on Thursday and Friday nights at 6 o'clock and Saturday at 1 p.m. All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 as well as on the Internet at GoPoly.com with Tom Barket handling play-by-play duties. A video stream as well as live stats for the series also will be available on the Internet.
Cal Poly, ranked No. 22 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper a month ago, returned 16 letter winners, including five position starters and five pitchers, off its 2011 squad which finished 27-26 overall and third in the Big West at 15-9. The Mustangs started the year 0-6 before winning 27 of their next 44 games.
Cal Poly is off to a much better start in 2012 with series sweeps against Oklahoma State (3-0) and Loyola Marymount (4-0) as well as series wins over Washington (2-1) and San Diego State (3-1). The Mustangs, 7-1 in February, posted a 10-8 record in March, including series losses to Minnesota and Long Beach State.
UC Irvine opened Big West play at home by sweeping Pacific over the weekend by scores of 5-4, 7-4 and 6-0. Third baseman Taylor Sparks hit a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth Friday and delivered a bases-loaded, two-run single to drive in the game-tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth Saturday. Phillip Ferragamo scattered five hits in seven scoreless innings Sunday.
Cal Poly's top hitter through 27 games is senior shortstop Mike Miller with a .371 average. His 14-game hitting streak was snapped Sunday, but Miller leads the club with 10 doubles and 31 runs scored. Sophomore third baseman Jimmy Allen sports a .330 average while junior center fielder Mitch Haniger has a .314 average and leads the club and the Big West with six home runs and 32 RBI. Sophomore left fielder David Armendariz sports a .286 mark and redshirt freshman right fielder Nick Torres .284.
UC Irvine, coached by Mike Gillespie (fifth season at UC Irvine (186-81), 25th season overall (956-557-4), USC '62), returned 16 lettermen, including four position starters and 10 pitchers, off a team which went 43-18 a year ago and finished second in the Big West Conference at 16-8. The Anteaters won the NCAA Los Angeles Regional at UCLA a year ago before losing to Virginia twice in three games in the Super Regionals.
The Anteaters have won series against BYU, Nevada, Dartmouth and Pacific while losing two of three to Washington and Baylor. UC Irvine also won each of its three games in the season-opening Urban Invitational.
Top hitters so far in 2012 for the Anteaters are designated hitter Connor Spencer (.426, five triples, 14 RBI), left fielder Jeff Stephens (.364, 10 RBI), first baseman Jordan Fox (.333, 20 RBI) and shortstop D.J. Crumlich (.330, nine doubles, 11 RBI). UC Irvine's pitching staff is paced by right-handers Crosby Slaught (3-2, 3.16 ERA) and Andrew Thurman (2-1, 3.50 ERA).
UC Irvine is hitting .280 this season, has compiled a 2.84 staff ERA and has committed 25 errors in 26 games for a .975 fielding percentage.
UC Irvine has qualified for the NCAA regionals 12 times (seven in Division I), compiling a 19-14 win-loss record in Division I postseason competition and qualifying for the College World Series in 2007.
Cal Poly and UC Irvine have met 33 times in baseball since the series began when both teams were Southern California Baseball Alliance members back in 1977. The Anteaters hold a 20-13 advantage, winning two of three games against the Mustangs a year ago at Anteater Ballpark. Cal Poly is 10-20 against UC Irvine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
CalPoly's pitching rotation for the series, moved up one day due to Easter Sunday on April 8, includes junior right-hander Joey Wagman (4-2, 2.39 ERA) (pictured above) on Thursday night, senior southpaw Kyle Anderson (4-1, 2.27 ERA) on Friday night and junior right-hander Kyle Brueggemann (3-2, 4.58 ERA) on Saturday afternoon.
A year ago Cal Poly posted its sixth winning season in the last eight years, and a third-place finish in the highly competitive Big West Conference at 15-9. The Mustangs have finished in the upper half of the league standings eight times in the last 10 years. Cal Poly was 7-4 against top-25 teams in 2011 and finished 19-7 at home.
The Mustangs, who won just eight games away from Baggett Stadium in 2011, posted a 6-3 mark on the nine-game road trip which ended March 6 at Santa Clara and are 7-5 on the road this year. Cal Poly was 5-3 against West Coast Conference schools in a 10-game stretch beginning and ending with losses to Santa Clara on Feb. 21 and March 6.
Following the series against UC Irvine, Cal Poly will play four games on the road next week, visiting UC Santa Barbara for a single non-conference game Tuesday and traveling to Cal State Northridge for a three-game Big West Conference series Friday through Sunday (April 13-15).