Mustangs (4-9) Lose Two of Three Games to No. 5 Michigan By a Total of Two Runs; Bears (8-4) Win All Three Contests at Minute Maid Park

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly (4-9, 0-0 Big West), which won two of three games in the second annual MLB4 Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., including a dramatic 9-8 victory over defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt, but has dropped eight of its last 10 games, including six of eight at home, hosts Baylor (8-4, 0-0 Big 12) for a three-game weekend series inside Baggett Stadium.

First pitches are set for 6 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 o’clock Sunday. All three games of the series will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Chris Sylvester calling the play-by-play. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.

At the MLB4 Tournament, Coach Larry Lee’s Mustangs shut out Connecticut 5-0, lost to No. 8 Michigan 8-5 and concluded tournament play with a walk-off win against Vanderbilt. After squandering 3-0 and 7-2 leads, the Mustangs scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning on sacrifice flies by Cole Cabrera and Tate Samuelson.

Two weeks ago, Cal Poly fell to Pepperdine 9-2, then dropped three of four games to BYU, winning the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader 10-0 as freshman right-hander Drew Thorpe struck out 13, two shy of the school Division I record, over eight scoreless frames.

Last week, the Mustangs were shut out by Fresno State 13-0 before returning home for a three-game set against No. 5 Michigan, winning only the middle game 5-4 in 10 innings. Sophomore second baseman Taison Corio led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the tying run, then singled to deep center field to knock in the winning run in the 10th.

Cal Poly opened this week with an 8-5 loss Tuesday at Santa Clara, falling to the Broncos for the fifth straight time. The Mustangs squandered an early 2-0 lead. Beesley knocked in three runs with an RBI double and two-run single, Corio singled twice and Myles Emmerson added a run-scoring single and sacrifice fly.

The win over UConn gave Cal Poly a victory in its season opener for the seventh time in the last nine years. Mustang head coach Larry Lee is 11-7 in the first game of the year.

Baylor won two of three games against Nebraska to open the 2020 season but fell out of the rankings by losing two of three to Oral Roberts. At the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children College Classic inside Minute Maid Park in Houston last weekend, the Bears beat Missouri, No. 11 LSU and No. 6 Arkansas to vault back into the polls this week, receiving votes in most of the rankings.

The Mustangs returned 10 of the 11 position players who started 20 or more games in 2019 and eight of last year’s 13 pitchers. The group of veterans is paced by junior corner infielder Tate Samuelson, who has led Cal Poly in home runs and RBIs each of the last two years, senior center fielder Bradlee Beesley, who is in or near the all-time top 10 in several offensive categories at Cal Poly, and junior right-hander Taylor Dollard, who was 5-0 with a 2.89 ERA and four saves as a relief pitcher a year ago and is making the switch to the weekend rotation this spring as the Mustangs’ Friday night starter.

Junior left fielder Cole Cabrera, Cal Poly’s leadoff hitter this year, went 6-for-15 in the MLB4 Tournament with two doubles, a pair of RBIs and four runs scored to lead the Mustangs in Scottsdale. Senior center fielder Bradlee Beesley and freshman third baseman Nick Marinconz each added four hits while junior first baseman Tate Samuelson drove in five runs.

Emmerson was 9-for-18 at the plate in the BYU series and threw out four would-be Cougar base stealers, two in each game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Samuelson and Beesley each added seven hits — Samuelson driving in three runs to lift his team-leading season total to nine in 12 games.

The Mustang pitching staff compiled a 2.79 ERA in the Michigan series, but Cal Poly hit just .180 — Cabrera and Marinconz collecting four hits each.

Cal Poly’s starters on the mound have combined for a 2.84 ERA but the relievers own a collective 5.08 ERA so far. UConn hit just .091 against Dollard, all four runs surrendered by Andrew Alvarez were unearned and he struck out seven over 4 2/3 innings and Thorpe tossed seven solid innings in a no-decision against Vanderbilt, allowing two runs and four hits with six strikeouts. Despite winning three of four games, BYU was held to just a .174 team batting average in the series. Michigan hit .265 in winning two of three games of a series in which Cal Poly had the lead in all three games.

The Mustangs, who committed nine errors in the MLB4 Tournament, including seven in the loss to Michigan, shored up the defense two weeks ago with just four errors in five games. Cal Poly is No. 8 in the nine-team Big West, however, with its .958 fielding percentage and 18 of the 73 runs the Mustang pitching staff has allowed so far this season are unearned.

Baylor posted a 35-19 record last year, finishing second in the Big 12 and qualifying for the NCAA Los Angeles Regional, going 1-2. Former Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez has 22 returning lettermen, including all nine position starters and 12 pitchers, led by catcher/first baseman Andy Thomas (.335, 32 RBIs in 2019), shortstop Nick Loftin (.323, 6 home runs, 41 RBIs) and first baseman Chase Wehsener (.291, 21 RBIs). The pitching staff is paced by right-hander Jimmy Weston (5-3, 4.30 ERA in 2019) and southpaws Paul Dickens (6-2, 4.41 ERA) and Ryan Leckich (4-1, 2.30 ERA).

So far this season, center fielder Jared McKenzie leads the Bears with a .375 average, followed by Loftin (.341, 11 RBIs), left fielder Mack Mueller (.308, eight RBIs) and second baseman Ricky Martinez (.293, 11 RBIs). Right-hander Hayden Kettler has a 2-1 mark and 3.00 ERA while closer Luke Boyd, also a right-hander, already has five saves and has not allowed a run over eight innings.

The Bears have won six conference titles, capturing the Big 12 Conference’s tournament crown in 2018, and have made 21 NCAA regional appearances, including trips to the postseason the last three seasons. Baylor, which won 22 of its last 25 regular season games in 2018, also has qualified for the College World Series three times, the last in 2005.

Rodriguez (138-96 in four-plus seasons at Baylor, 539-396 in 17-plus seasons overall, Pepperdine ‘01) was head coach at Pepperdine from 2004-15, posting a 401-300 mark, and was an assistant at Pepperdine for four seasons before he was elevated to head coach shortly after the 2003 season. He guided the Waves to five straight NCAA regional appearances (2004-08), eight total, and six West Coast Conference titles (2004-06, 2012 and 2014-15). 

An All-American second baseman on Pepperdine’s 1992 national championship team, Rodriguez was a fifth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1992 and played professionally for seven seasons with the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers and Expos organizations, reaching the Major Leagues with the Tigers and Red Sox, both in 1995. He was a two-time All-American at Pepperdine.

Cal Poly is 1-5 in its all-time series against Baylor, visiting Waco for three-game series in 2015 and 2019. Lone Mustang win in the series was a 3-1 decision in the middle game of last year’s series as Bobby Ay scattered three hits over six innings for his first victory of the 2019 season and Nick DiCarlo delivered a tie-snapping two-run single in the sixth inning. Tate Samuelson singled three times for the Mustangs.

Cal Poly’s top hitters to date are catcher Myles Emmerson with a .320 mark and five RBIs and center fielder Bradlee Beesley at .308 with five RBIs. Junior left fielder Cole Cabrera is hitting .264 with two home runs and six RBIs while first baseman Tate Samuelson is at .241 with a team-leading nine RBIs. Both Beesley and Samuelson had nine-game hitting streaks snapped by Michigan last weekend while Emmerson hit in six straight, including his third career four-hit game in the second game of the doubleheader versus BYU.

The Mustangs are playing 35 of their 59 games at home this season, including five consecutive weekend series against BYU, Michigan, Baylor, Oklahoma and San Diego State. Cal Poly hosts UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and UC Davis for Big West series in April and May.

Cal Poly won the Big West title in 2014 and has placed second six times, third four times and fourth six times since 2000, posting a combined record of 310-258 in 23 years as a member of the Big West. 

Cal Poly won seven of its 15 weekend series in addition to a 2-2 split with Saint Mary’s in 2019. Along with their sweep of Columbia to halt an early season slide (2-9), the Mustangs swept CSUN, UC Davis and Long Beach State en route to a 12-2 start in Big West play, finishing 17-7 and two games behind UC Santa Barbara. A win on the final day of the season would have resulted in a tie for first place between the Mustangs and Gauchos and Cal Poly would have attained the conference’s automatic qualifying berth in the NCAA regionals. The Mustangs won six of their eight Big West series.

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 186 of their last 267 home games for a 70.0 winning percentage.

Lee (545-428-2) reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. His 545 wins to date are No. 2 in the conference behind Fresno State’s Bob Bennett (547) and, during the UC Davis series last year, 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, who earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13, 2017 against Gonzaga, garnered his 1,000th career victory with a 3-0 triumph at UC Santa Barbara on May 23, 2019. He opened the 2020 campaign with a 1,001-660-5 record over 33 seasons.

Next week, Cal Poly plays Tuesday at Pepperdine, then returns home to face Oklahoma in a four-game series over the weekend (Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 4 o’clock and Sunday at 1 p.m

Photo credit: Owen Main www.fanmanship.com 

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