Cal Poly base­ball is off to an­other slow start; can they re­cover?

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY SCOTT MIDDLECAMP

Slow starts have killed the Cal Poly base­ball team over the past few years.

The Mus­tangs have posted a com­bined 5-11 record in Feb­ru­ary the past two sea­sons — 2-6 in 2017 and 3-5 last year.

It’s ul­ti­mately cost them a spot in the post­sea­son de­spite fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the Big West Con­fer­ence in each of those sea­sons. Cal Poly hasn’t earned an NCAA play­off berth since 2014.

This sea­son will be an up­hill bat­tle once again; Cal Poly was swept in both week­end se­ries, against Ok­la­homa and Cal, to open the year and has a 2-6 record go­ing into this week­end’s matchup at Wash­ing­ton, a Col­lege World Se­ries par­tic­i­pant last year.

“We bet­ter be ready from pitch one if we want to ac­com­plish what we need to ac­com­plish,” Cal Poly’s 17-year head coach Larry Lee said be­fore the sea­son started. “It is an ex­tremely chal­leng­ing sched­ule for the group we have. We’ll have to be able to pitch and play de­fense to keep our­selves in each and ev­ery game. We have to be very good in both non-con­fer­ence and con­fer­ence games in or­der to gain a re­gional berth.”

The Big West’s nine other head coaches weren’t overly con­fi­dent in that abil­ity, pick­ing the Mus­tangs to fin­ish fourth in the con­fer­ence in the pre­sea­son poll. Cal State Fuller­ton was se­lected to re­peat as Big West cham­pion, fol­lowed by UC Irvine and Long Beach State.

Nei­ther Ok­la­homa nor Cal were pushovers, how­ever. Ok­la­homa was a play­off team last year, and Cal fin­ished fifth in the tough Pac-12 Con­fer­ence and fea­tures last year’s Golden Spikes Award (given to the na­tion’s top player) win­ner in An­drew Vaughn.

The Mus­tangs will have a to­tal of 17 games against 2018 play­off teams and 30 to­tal home games. Satur­day games at home have been moved to 4 p.m. to help with the turn­around for the 1 p.m. Sun­day starts.

Cal Poly re­turns 18 play­ers and four play­ers who red­shirted on last year’s team. Here’s a look at some play­ers who should be key con­trib­u­tors this sea­son:

PITCH­ING

There are 10 re­turn­ers from last year’s pitch­ing staff, in­clud­ing those who started 40 of the Mus­tang’s 57 games.

Se­nior right-han­der Jarred Zill and ju­nior right-han­der Bobby Ay missed the ma­jor­ity of the sea­son due to in­jury. Both will fig­ure to be a part of the week­end ro­ta­tion, which will also in­clude right-han­ders Tay­lor Dol­lard and Dar­ren Nel­son, and fresh­man lefty Chase Watkins.

Zill made five starts with an 0-1 record and a 3.00 ERA be­fore he missed the rest of the year. He also missed the en­tire 2017 sea­son and was given a med­i­cal red­shirt.

Dol­lard pitched in 19 games as a re­liever, go­ing 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA and three saves. Nel­son was a mid­dle man in the week­end ro­ta­tion, go­ing 5-4 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 starts.

Se­nior Michael Clark, who earned 11 saves last sea­son, should also fig­ure into the group of re­liev­ers.

PO­SI­TION PLAY­ERS

The de­fense be­hind the pitch­ing will be an­chored by five re­turn­ing play­ers, in­clud­ing ju­nior out­fielder Bradlee Beesley, ju­nior

short­stop Dy­lan Do­herty, sopho­more third base­man Nick DiCarlo, sopho­more first base­man Tate Sa­muel­son and ju­nior in­fielder Scott Ogrin.

Ogrin will sit for at least the first half of 2019 due to in­jury, leav­ing a spot open for fresh­man Wil­lie Cano to con­trib­ute im­me­di­ately.

Beesley moves over to cen­ter field from right af­ter Alex McKenna was drafted in the fourth round by the Hous­ton Astros. Beesley’s va­cated spot will be taken by com­mu­nity col­lege trans­fer Eli­jah Greene, and sopho­more Cole Cabr­era will be in left.

Ju­nior Myles Em­mer­son will be be­hind the plate, tak­ing over for 2018 Big West De­fen­sive Player of the Year Nick Meyer. For­mer Tri­bune County Player of the Year Mark Arm­strong will also be el­i­gi­ble af­ter red­shirt­ing his fresh­man sea­son. Ju­nior John Mackay, ju­nior trans­fer Con­nor Loucks and fresh­man AJ Esper­anza will also be in the mix.

OF­FENSE

Beesley, a sec­ond-team All-Big West se­lec­tion last sea­son, hit .368 in the Cape Cod League dur­ing the sum­mer, with four dou­bles, two triples, one home run and eight RBI in 22 games. He is off to a tor­rid start to 2019, go­ing 15 for 33 with three dou­bles and seven RBI through Fri­day in eight games.

“Out­side of Beesley, there is no proven com­mod­ity on the of­fen­sive end,” Lee said. “We have a num­ber of play­ers who have play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at this level, and they will need to up their game to a higher level. Col­lec­tively, they need to pro­duce a pro­duc­tive lineup.”

Greene pro­duced at the com­mu­nity col­lege level, hit­ting .428 for Mt. San An­to­nio Col­lege with 16 dou­bles, five triples, eight home runs and 46 RBI. Sopho­more Blake Wa­genseller is pen­ciled as the des­ig­nated hit­ter.

The Mus­tangs open the Wash­ing­ton se­ries at 6 p.m. Fri­day, fol­lowed by 2 p.m. Satur­day and 1 p.m. Sun­day. Cal Poly re­turns home March 8 for a three­game week­end se­ries against Columbia.

Scott Middlecamp: 805-781-7897, sd­mid­dle­camp

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­[email protected]­bune­news.com

Cal Poly’s Con­nor Cur­nick pops up from a slide at sec­ond as Cal’s Sam Wez­niak waved off a throw Sun­day, the fi­nal day of a non-con­fer­ence se­ries.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­[email protected]­bune­news.com

Cal Poly’s Cole Cabr­era hauls in a long out off the bat of Cal’s Cameron Eden on Sun­day, the fi­nal game of a week­end non-con­fer­ence se­ries.

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