SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (13-17 overall, 1-5 Big West), three games behind the leaders in the Big West Conference after losing all three games at Cal State Fullerton over the weekend, goes back out on the road Tuesday night for a rematch with CSU Bakersfield (10-20, 1-5 Western Athletic) at Hardt Field (cap.: 2,000).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Roadrunners of second-year head coach Jeremy Beard square off at 6 p.m. 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 four weeks ago, 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 last Tuesday's 6-0 win over CSU Bakersfield. Kyle Marinconz and Colby Barrick led the way offensively with two-run singles in a five-run third-inning rally.
Last weekend at Cal State Fullerton, the Titans earned 5-1, 5-4 and 6-3 victories to move into a three-way tie for first place with CSUN and Hawai'i. The Mustangs struck out 32 times in the three contests, hit just .202 and was 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position.
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 141 points to .280.
McKenna, 6-for-13 in the CSUN series and 5-for-12 against Cal State Fullerton, has regained the lead among Cal Poly hitters with a .325 mark. He also tops the squad in doubles (9) and multiple-hit games (14). Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is next at .293 with six doubles, four home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 21 RBI.
Sophomore middle infielder Dylan Doherty is hitting .286 but is sideline with a hip flexor injury while junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz is next at .284 with four home runs and 16 RBI, elevating his average 46 points over the last six weeks.
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .280 by hitting .302 since and including a doubleheader sweep against Pacific on March 3.
After losing seven of its first nine games, losing series against UC Davis and Cal, CSU Bakersfield won eight of its next 14 games, taking three of four against both Portland and Dartmouth. The Roadrunners lost two of three games against UTRGV to open Western Athletic Conference play three weeks ago, had a bye to close out March and, following the loss at Cal Poly, were swept by New Mexico State at home by scores of 9-3, 9-3 and 5-2.
Top Roadrunner hitters to date are first baseman Andrew Penner with a .357 average, followed by left fielder Jared Toothman (.283, second baseman Austyn Tengan (.279), shortstop Evan Berkey at .263 and catcher Ryan Koch at .261 with six doubles and 15 RBI.
Freshman right-hander Kevin Altamirano (0-0, 14.04 ERA) from Warren High School in Downey will start on the mound Tuesday for CSU Bakersfield, facing Mustang sophomore southpaw Thomas Triantos (1-2, 4.84 ERA), who will be making his fifth start of the year for Cal Poly.
Coached by Jeremy Beard (second season, 42-44, Oregon State '96), CSU Bakersfield has a .245 team batting average. The Roadrunners have stolen 30 of 42 bases, sport a 5.91 staff ERA and have compiled a .947 fielding percentage with 59 errors in 30 games, including 10 miscues in the New Mexico State series.
CSU Bakersfield is coming off a 32-24 campaign, including a 14-10 mark for third place in the Western Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners return 15 lettermen, including four of the 10 position starters and five pitchers.
CSU Bakersfield launched its baseball program in 2009 and the Roadrunners have been a member of the WAC since the 2013 campaign. They will join the Big West Conference in the fall of 2019.
Beard took over for Bob Macaluso in December 2016. Macaluso had replaced Bill Kernen as head coach on Aug. 31, 2015, but coached just one season. Beard coached at Portland in 2014 and 2015 before becoming pitching coach of the Roadrunners for the 2016 campaign. He also has coached at Central Catholic High School (1998-2001) in Portland, Ore., Columbia Basin College (Wash.) from 2001-10 and Western Nevada College in 2011 and 2012. Beard was a pitcher at Oregon State, graduating in 1996.
Cal Poly and CSU Bakersfield have met 25 times on the baseball field since the series began in 2009. The Mustangs hold a 19-6 advantage in the series, winning six of the first seven and capturing a pair of midweek games in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 (9-7 at Baggett Stadium, 10-2 at Hardt Field). Lee is 19-6 against CSU Bakersfield while Jeremy Beard is 0-3 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 159 of their last 217 home games for a 73.3 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 (496-381-2) 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 have 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.
Following Tuesday's game, Cal Poly begins a stretch of playing 18 of its next 23 games at home, including four of its next five Big West series, beginning Friday night with the first of three contests against UC Davis. The Aggies take a 9-17 overall mark (2-4 Big West) into Tuesday's non-conference game at Stanford.
Photo above of Alex McKenna courtesy of Alexander Bohlen