SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (14-17 overall, 1-5 Big West), which has played 19 of its first 31 games on the road, will play 18 of its next 23 contests inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138), starting Friday night with the first of three Big West Conference games against UC Davis (9-18, 2-4 Big West).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Aggies of seventh-year head coach Matt Vaughn square off at 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday and 1 o'clock Sunday. All three games of the series 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 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 Titans are in 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 were 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 136 points to .275.
Senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick sits atop all Mustang hitters with a .344 average while McKenna, 6-for-13 in the CSUN series and 5-for-12 against Cal State Fullerton, has compiled a .315 mark. He also tops the squad in doubles (9) and multiple-hit games (14). Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz (pictured at left) is next at .303 with four home runs and 18 RBI, elevating his average 65 points over the last six weeks, including his third career four-hit game Tuesday to spark Cal Poly's comeback from an 8-0 deficit in an 11-8 triumph.
Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson (pictured above) is hitting .295 with six doubles, four home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 22 RBI while sophomore middle infielder Dylan Doherty is hitting .286 but is sidelined with a hip flexor injury.
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .283 by hitting .305 since and including a doubleheader sweep against Pacific on March 3.
UC Davis opened its 2018 season by winning two of three games at CSU Bakersfield, but has not won a series since, falling to Creighton, Oregon and Northern Colorado in non-conference play and losing two of three games to both UC Riverside and Hawai'i in Big West contests. Freshman shortstop Tanner Murray went 5-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBI as the Aggies defeated Hawai'i 10-3 last Sunday.
Twenty-seven games into the season under seventh-year head coach Matt Vaughn (146-208-1, UC Davis '92), UC Davis is hitting .291 as a team with 23 steals in 44 attempts, a 5.70 staff ERA and a .966 fielding percentage with 35 errors. Designated hitter Ryan Anderson is the top Aggie hitter with a .378 average, six doubles and 20 RBI, followed by third baseman Brad Pluschkell (.342, 12 doubles, seven RBI) and Murray (.338, five doubles, nine RBI).
The Aggie pitching staff is paced by right-handers Jared Sasaki (2-3, 5.29 ERA) and Matt Blais (2-4, 5.91 ERA) along with southpaw Chris Brown (2-3, 5.40 ERA).
Cal Poly and UC Davis have met 45 times on the baseball field since the series began in 1951. Thirty-nine of those meetings are over the last 13 seasons after the Aggies announced their intention to move to Division I, a transfer that was completed in time for the 2008 season. The Mustangs hold a 34-11 advantage in the series after winning two of three against the Aggies in Davis last season.
Cal Poly had won eight consecutive series against UC Davis before the Aggies took two of three games in 2012 in Davis. Cal Poly is 29-10 against UC Davis, including a 19-2 mark in Baggett Stadium, since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 29-10 against UC Davis while Matt Vaughn is 6-12 against Cal Poly.
UC Davis has appeared in one NCAA Division I regional (2008) and seven in Division II, making two appearances in the Division II College World Series (1995, 2003). The Aggies won the California Collegiate Athletic Association regular-season title in 2004 and nine Northern California Athletic Conference championships.
Vaughn was an assistant at UC Davis for 19 seasons before he was elevated to head coach following the 2011 season. Vaughn pitched for the Aggies from 1989-92, starting 26 games and winning nine. He earned honorable mention All-Northern California Athletic Conference honors as a senior.
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 (497-381-2) 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.
Next week, Cal Poly plays another midweek game on the road, visiting Pepperdine on Tuesday at 3 p.m., before returning home 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.