SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (16-8, 0-0 Big West), off to its best start in three years following four series wins and a 2-2 mark in the Aztec Invitational, continues an 11-game homestand this weekend and opens Big West Conference play with a three-game series against Long Beach State (8-15, 0-0 Big West) in Baggett Stadium (cap.: 1,734).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs will play the 49ers on Friday and Saturday nights at 6 o'clock and Sunday at 1 p.m. All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 as well as on the Internet at GoPoly.com with Tom Barket handling play-by-play duties. A video stream as well as live stats for the series also will be available on the Internet.
Cal Poly, ranked No. 22 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper a month ago, returned 16 letter winners, including five position starters and five pitchers, off its 2011 squad which finished 27-26 overall and third in the Big West at 15-9. The Mustangs started the year 0-6 before winning 27 of their next 44 games.
Cal Poly is off to a much better start in 2012 with series sweeps against Oklahoma State (3-0) and Loyola Marymount (4-0) as well as series wins over Washington (2-1) and San Diego State (3-1). The Mustangs, 7-1 in February, are 9-7 in March, including their only series loss at Minnesota.
"Knowing we need to have a productive non-conference and conference win-loss record, we feel good about what we've done up to this point," said Lee. "We started off the season playing very well, then went through a lull for two or three weeks. We hope this past weekend got us back on track just in time for conference play.
"At one time or another, we've had different facets of the game going well for us. Occasionally we put everything together, but we weren't able to perform anything very consistently during that lull," Lee added. "The feel we had last Saturday in the doubleheader against San Diego State was what we felt at the beginning of the season."
Long Beach State won its first two series against Virginia Commonwealth and Cal, but lost series to Oregon, Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton before bouncing back with a 2-1 series win over the weekend at Wichita State. The 49ers, 4-9 in one-run games this season, fell to Washington State 11-1 on Monday.
Cal Poly's top hitter through 24 games is senior shortstop Mike Miller with a .379 average and a 12-game winning streak. He also leads the club with nine doubles and 30 runs scored and has reached base safely in 23 consecutive games. Sophomore third baseman Jimmy Allen sports a .341 average while freshman right fielder Nick Torres is hitting .315 with nine doubles and 18 RBI.
Junior center fielder Mitch Haniger (pictured above) has a .333 average and leads the club and the Big West with five home runs and 30 RBI. Miller went 8-for-17 with three doubles and five RBI in the San Diego State series en route to Big West Field Player of the Week honors while Haniger was 7-for-13 with two doubles and five RBI.
Long Beach State, coached by Troy Buckley (second season (37-42), Santa Clara '90), returned 24 lettermen, including seven position starters and 10 pitchers, off a team which went 29-27 a year ago and finished fourth in the Big West Conference at 12-12.
Top returnees are shortstop Matt Duffy (.266, 31 RBI in 2011), outfielder Brennan Metzger (.267, 18 RBI, 11 steals in 2011) and designated hitter/first baseman Ino Patron (.277, 24 RBI in 2011). Long Beach State's pitching staff is paced by Shawn Stuart (4-4, 3.16 ERA in 2011), Kyle Friedrichs (4-2, 3.99 ERA in 2011) and Eddie Magallon (2-1, 3.62 ERA, nine saves in 2011), all right-handers.
Top 49er hitters so far in 2012 are Patron (.321, 10 RBI), right fielder Richard Prigatano (.311) and third baseman Juan Avila (.263). Metzger is hitting .260 and went 6-for-14 with four RBI in the Wichita State series. Long Beach State is hitting .240 this season, has compiled a 3.75 staff ERA and has committed 29 errors in 23 games for a .968 fielding percentage.
Long Beach State has qualified for the NCAA regionals 19 times in its Division I history, the last in 2008, and has made four College World Series appearances (1989, 1991, 1993 and 1998). The 49ers have won eight Big West titles, the last time in 2008.
Cal Poly and Long Beach State have met 128 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1957. The 49ers hold an 82-46 advantage, winning two of three games against the Mustangs a year ago at Blair Field. Cal Poly is 13-41 against Long Beach State since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
A year ago Cal Poly posted its sixth winning season in the last eight years, and a third-place finish in the highly competitive Big West Conference at 15-9. The Mustangs have finished in the upper half of the league standings eight times in the last 10 years. Cal Poly was 7-4 against top-25 teams in 2011 and finished 19-7 at home.
The Mustangs, who won just eight games away from Baggett Stadium in 2011, posted a 6-3 mark on the nine-game road trip which ended March 6 at Santa Clara and are 7-5 on the road this year. Cal Poly was 5-3 against West Coast Conference schools in a 10-game stretch beginning and ending with losses to Santa Clara on Feb. 21 and March 6.
Following the series against Long Beach State, Cal Poly will play another Big West Conference series at home, hosting UC Irvine for three games Thursday through Saturday, April 5-7. The series is moved up a day due to Easter Sunday on April 8.