May 14, 2018
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (23-27 overall, 9-9 Big West), which dropped into a fourth-place tie in the Big West Conference standings after winning just one of three games at home against UC Irvine over the weekend, continues an eight-game home stand Tuesday night by hosting Pepperdine (28-19, 16-8 West Coast) for a single non-conference game inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Waves of third-year head coach Rick Hirtensteiner square off at 6 p.m. PDT. 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.
Cal Poly is tied for fourth place with Hawai'i and Long Beach State in the Big West, all 9-9 and five games behind frontrunner Cal State Fullerton (14-4) with six games remaining for each team. CSUN is second at 12-9 and UC Irvine is third at 10-8. The Mustangs host sixth-place UC Santa Barbara this weekend and visit eighth-place UC Riverside next weekend to close out the 2018 season.
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 solo 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.
Cal Poly was 3-4 after the Tony Gwynn Legacy and was within one game of the .500 mark on five other occasions before finally getting over the hump and to the .500 mark at 19-19 with a sweep of Long Beach State on April 20-22. The Mustangs' only series wins so far this season are three-game sweeps against Dartmouth and Long Beach State and two games to one over UC Davis and Hawai'i. Cal Poly dropped 3-1 and 4-1 decisions sandwiching a 4-3 win against UC Irvine last weekend. Kyle Marinconz was 7-for-11 in the series while Alex McKenna went 8-for-13.
The Mustangs have earned a pair of walk-off wins, scoring the winning run on wild pitches each time. Junior catcher Nick Meyerscored on a wild pitch in the 10th inning for a 5-4 triumph against New Mexico on March 12 and beat San Diego State 5-4 on a walk-off wild pitch as the Aztecs were trying to intentionally walk Colby Barrick in the ninth inning.
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, returned this year.
"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 126 points to .265.
McKenna lifted his batting average to a team-leading .344 with last week's 10-for-18 performance while senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick and junior catcher Nick Meyer both sport .317 marks. Meyer is 32-for-87 (.368) over his last 20 games while McKenna, who has hit .449 in 18 conference contests, leads the squad in doubles (14) and multiple-hit games (21).
Junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz sports a .308 mark with 12 doubles (eight in his last 13 games), four home runs and 26 RBI, elevating his average 73 points over the last 11 weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield and first three-hit game of the season Sunday against UC Irvine. Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .296 with nine doubles, five home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 37 RBI.
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .290, tops in the conference, by hitting .306 since and including a doubleheader sweep March 3 against Pacific.
Pepperdine was 12-15 after a 10-4 loss to CSUN on April 3. Since then, the Waves have won 16 of 20 contests with series wins over Pacific, Santa Clara, San Diego, San Francisco and, last weekend, Saint Mary's, scoring 9-5 and 2-1 wins before falling in Sunday's finale 12-8. Pepperdine sports a 16-8 mark in West Coast Conference play, leading Saint Mary's and Gonzaga, both 14-10, by two games with one series left to play at home this weekend against eighth-place Portland.
Forty-seven games into the season, Pepperdine is hitting .261 as a team with 31 steals in 47 attempts, a 3.53 staff ERA and a .976 fielding percentage with 41 errors. Outfielder Matthew Kanfer leads the way offensively with a .319 average, including 12 doubles, five home runs and 29 RBI, followed by first baseman Brandt Belk at .310 with 10 doubles and 17 RBI while designated hitter/outfielder Duncan McKinnon is hitting .305 with 15 RBI. Pitcher/outfielder/designated hitter Jordan Qsar, the team RBI leader with 58, is hitting .280 with 10 doubles and 11 home runs.
Tuesday's starter for Cal Poly is expected to be sophomore right-hander Connor Redmond (0-2, 8.10 ERA) (pictured at left). Pepperdine's starter will be sophomore right-hander Benjamin Slattery (1-0, 3.86 ERA). Redmond will be making his first start this season and third of his Mustang career while Slattery will make his third start of 2018.
Pepperdine has 22 lettermen returning off last year's 20-32 squad that finished eighth in the West Coast standings at 8-19. Among the returnees are six position starters and nine pitchers.
Hirtensteiner (third season, 77-75, Pepperdine '89), a four-year standout at Pepperdine who earned All-American honors as a senior in 1989, was an assistant at Pepperdine for 17 seasons before replacing Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor) prior to the 2016 campaign.
A regional qualifier for the 28th time in 2015 and 1992 College World Series champion, Pepperdine has appeared in one Super Regional (Fort Worth in 2014) and two College World Series. The Waves won the 2015 West Coast Conference postseason tournament in Stockton and went 2-2 in the Fullerton Regional.
Cal Poly and Pepperdine have met 63 times in baseball since the series began in 1947. The Waves hold a 38-25 advantage, including an 11-9 triumph in Malibu on April 17. The Mustangs scored six times in the seventh inning to wipe out an 8-3 deficit, but Pepperdine tallied three runs in the bottom of the seventh to regain the lead and held on for the win. The two teams have split midweek games each of the last four years and Pepperdine also earned 2-1 and 10-6 wins over the Mustangs in the 2014 San Luis Obispo Regional.
Cal Poly is 15-23 against Pepperdine since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
Larry Lee is 12-16 against his alma mater while Rick Hirtensteiner is 3-2 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 has played four contests against Pac-12 schools, losing once to Oregon State in Surprise, Ariz., and three times to UCLA 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 164 of their last 227 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 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 in early March and traveled 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 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 32.5 victories per season under Lee's guidance.
Lee (506-391-2) reached the 500-victory milestone April 20 with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. He 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, in his 15th season at Cal Poly, notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13, 2017 against Gonzaga.
Cal Poly wraps up its home schedule this weekend by entertaining Blue-Green rival UC Santa Barbara for a three-game Big West series (Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1 o'clock).