SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (8-5 overall, 0-0 Big West), which has bounced back from its season-opening 1-3 mark in a four-game series against Nevada by winning seven of its last nine games, including series wins over USC and No. 6 UCLA, opens Big West Conference play this weekend by visiting CSUN (0-0, 0-0 Big West) for a four-game set at Matador Field (cap.: 1,000).
Coach Larry Lee’s Mustangs and the Matadors of second-year head coach Dave Serrano clash Saturday at 1 p.m., an 11 a.m. doubleheader Sunday and the finale Monday at 2 p.m.
The final three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio (1280 AM and 101.7 FM) 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.
Coming off a 10-5 performance in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign, CSUN returned 23 of 33 letter winners, including all nine position starters and 10 pitchers. Top returnees are center fielder Denzel Clarke (.400, nine RBIs in 2020), designated hitter Jayson Newman (.333, 13 RBIs) and shortstop Carlos Arellano (.298, four RBIs). The pitching staff is paced by Blaine Traxel (2-1, 3.58 ERA in 2020), Gavin Lizik (1-1, 3.86 ERA) and closer Blake Schreiber (1-0, 0.82 ERA, four saves). All are right-handers.
CSUN opted to not play any non-conference games this spring and will be opening its 2021 season with this weekend’s series, which starts a day later than normal due to Winter Quarter finals at Cal Poly.
Drew Thorpe and Dylan Villalobos combined on a two-hitter in Cal Poly’s season-opening 4-0 win over Nevada, but the Mustangs stranded 38 runners on the base paths in the remaining three games of the series, falling 2-1, 11-8 (10 innings) and 12-6. Junior third baseman Tate Samuelson and senior catcher Myles Emmerson led the way at the plate for Cal Poly, Samuelson going 7-for-16 (,438) with a double, triple and four RBIs and Emmerson going 6-for-14 (.429) with two doubles and three runs scored.
It was a different story at USC as Cal Poly won two of three games three weeks ago, its first win of a three-game set against USC in 27 Division I seasons. Thorpe and Andrew Alvarez combined on a three-hitter in a 2-1 victory Friday night at Dedeaux Field and the Mustangs parlayed 16 hits into a 9-4 triumph Saturday afternoon, Samuelson, freshman shortstop Brooks Lee and junior designated hitter Matt Lopez all collecting three hits and driving in two runs. The Trojans jumped to a 6-0 lead in the first two innings Sunday and held on for a 7-6 win to salvage one victory in the series. Samuelson and Lee both hit solo home runs in the setback.
Cal Poly notched its first series sweep since April 2019 with a 3-0 sweep against Utah Valley two weeks ago. The Mustangs erupted for 13 runs in the fifth inning — two runs shy of the school Division I mark — to break open a 4-3 contest en route to a 17-3 triumph in the opener. Lee and Emmerson both had three hits — Lee with two doubles and a home run for three RBIs — as Cal Poly compiled a 16-hit attack for the second time this season. Sophomore southpaw and Boise State transfer Travis Weston tossed a complete-game two-hitter with a career-high 11 strikeouts in Saturday’s 5-1 win. Lee again produced three hits. Andrew Alvarez, another lefty, tossed six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and teamed with three relievers on a 6-0 shutout Sunday. Matt Lopez singled three times and Lee added a two-run home run and a sacrifice fly as both collected seven hits in the series.
No. 6 UCLA visited San Luis Obispo last weekend and the Mustangs earned a series win against the Bruins for the first time since Cal Poly’s Big West Conference championship season in 2014.
The Mustangs won the opener 5-4, overcoming an early 3-0 deficit as Brooks Lee produced a triple and single, Cole Cabrera a double and single and Matt Lopez two singles. The Mustangs scored an unearned run in the eighth inning to snap a 4-4 tie and three Mustang pitchers combined to strike out 14 Bruins. Starter Drew Thorpe struck out eight over 4 1/3 innings while Kyle Scott and Dylan Villalobos each fanned three Bruin batters. On Saturday, Cal Poly produced a pair of five-run rallies and a 17-hit offensive attack with Lee, Myles Emmerson and Nick DiCarlo combining for nine hits and seven RBIs. That wasn't enough as UCLA erased an early 5-0 deficit with 11 runs in the second, third and fourth frames, then had to hold on for a 13-12 victory. Lee tied a school Division I record with three doubles, accomplished by 14 others before him. Emmerson added a double and two singles while DiCarlo singled three times and knocked in two runs in Cal Poly's highest offensive output of the season. On Sunday, Lee and Cabrera belted two-run home runs and Emmerson also knocked in two runs as Cal Poly clinched the series with an 8-5 victory. After UCLA loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth, Bryan Woo was summoned from the bullpen and secured a groundout to first base, a strikeout and a game-ending grounder to shortstop for his first save. Cabrera went 3-for-5 with two RBIs while Lee and Lopez each added two hits. Junior lefty Andrew Alvarez (3-0) earned the victory after six innings of work on the mound, allowing three runs and seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
Cal Poly hit .311 in the series, led by Lee with a 7-for-14 performance at the plate, including three doubles, one triple, one home run and seven RBIs. Lopez went 6-for-13, Cabrera 5-for-13 and Emmerson 4-for-12 with four RBIs.
CSUN claimed its lone Big West title in 2002, and captured the Western Athletic Conference crown in 1996, both under Mike Batesole, now head coach at Fresno State. CSUN captured NCAA Division II national titles in 1970 and 1984 under Bob Hiegert.
Former Matadors who played in the Major Leagues include Jason Thompson, Adam Kennedy, Robert Fick, Lyman Bostock and Kameron Loe.
Cal Poly and CSUN have met 232 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1959. The Matadors hold a 124-108 advantage after Cal Poly swept CSUN in 2019 at Baggett Stadium. The Matadors won two of three games at Matador Field in 2018.
In 2014, Cal Poly swept the Matadors at Matador Field to clinch the Big West title. Cal Poly is 43-33 against CSUN since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season. Larry Lee is 36-20 against CSUN while Dave Serrano is 12-9 against Cal Poly — 4-5 while head coach at UC Irvine from 2005-07 and 8-4 at Cal State Fullerton from 2008-11. The Mustangs and Matadors did not meet in 2020, Serrano’s first year at CSUN, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A six-time NCAA Tournament head coach, Serrano (second season at CSUN (10-5), 15th season overall (456-307-1), Trinity University ‘03) was announced as the 10th head baseball coach in Matador history on June 23, 2019.
Serrano has spent 25 seasons coaching at the Division I level, including 14 seasons as head coach. Serrano is one of 12 coaches all-time to lead two different schools to the College World Series. In his six NCAA Tournament trips as a head coach, he has led four teams to the NCAA Super Regionals. As a head coach and an assistant coach, Serrano has been a part of seven College World Series and 16 NCAA Tournaments.
Serrano’s first Matador team in 2020 started the year 7-0, posting the program's best start in 27 seasons. He began his head coaching career at UC Irvine in 2005 where he led the Anteaters to two NCAA Regionals in three years and the school's first-ever trip to the College World Series in 2007.
Serrano took over head coaching duties at Cal State Fullerton in 2008, leading the Titans to the postseason in each of his four seasons. His squad advanced to the Super Regionals in his first three years, highlighted by a College World Series trip in 2009. Named Big West Coach of the Year in 2010, Serrano coached the Titans to three conference championships. He also spent six seasons as head coach at Tennessee from 2012-17 and spent the 2018 season at West Virginia as the Mountaineers' pitching coach.
From 1997-2004, Serrano served eight seasons as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Cal State Fullerton. Prior to Fullerton, Serrano was an assistant coach at Tennessee from 1995-96 and he began his coaching career at Cerritos College in 1988, his seven-year reign highlighted by a state title in 1989. Serrano graduated from Cerritos High School in 1982. He played at Cerritos College for two seasons, was a Junior College All-American and led the Falcons to a state title in 1985 with a 12-1 record on the mound. He played one season at Cal State Fullerton under head coach Augie Garrido in 1986.
Before the 2020 season was halted on March 11 due to COVID-19, Cal Poly won two of three games in the MLB4 Tournament at Scottsdale, Ariz., rallying for two runs on sacrifice flies in the bottom of the ninth inning for a walk-off 9-8 triumph over defending national champion Vanderbilt and also shutting out Connecticut 5-0 behind the combined two-hit pitching of Taylor Dollard and Dylan Villalobos.
The Mustangs, however, won just three of their next 13 contests to finish 5-11. One of those victories was a 10-inning 5-4 decision over No. 5 Michigan inside Baggett Stadium as Taison Corio singled with one out and the bases loaded.
Lee welcomed back 20 lettermen off last year’s squad, including seven position starters. The 2021 Mustang roster also has been bolstered by the addition of three transfers from Boise State, which dropped its baseball program last summer, and one from Washington State, first baseman/designated hitter Matt Lopez.
Catcher Myles Emmerson led the squad a year ago with his .317 average, but no other Mustang starter finished above .280. Emmerson is the only one of the five seniors on last year's squad who returned this season under the NCAA rule allowing every 2020 spring sport athlete another year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
Last year's freshman class, which includes the likes of shortstop Brooks Lee, infielder Nick Marinconz and pitchers Drew Thorpe, Derek True and Kyle Scott, is considered one of Lee's strongest and the lineup also will feature the likes of veterans Cole Cabrera in center field, Taison Corio at second base and Tate Samuelson, who has moved from first base across the diamond to third base this year.
In addition to Thorpe, Scott and True, the pitching staff is led by returnees Andrew Alvarez and Bryan Woo in the starting rotation and Dylan Villalobos out of the bullpen. Thorpe is the Friday night starter, with either Alvarez or Woo on Sundays.
All three Boise State transfers figure to play prominent roles with the Mustangs this spring. Southpaw Travis Weston is Cal Poly's Saturday starter, Joe Yorke has started all but one game at first base and Reagan Doss roams the grass in the outfield.
Leading the squad’s hitters 13 games into the season are Lopez with a .478 average (best in the Big West), three doubles and 13 RBIs. Emmerson sports a .400 mark with three doubles, a triple and nine RBIs while Lee, the reigning two-time Big West Player of the Week after going 7-for-12 against Utah Valley and 7-for-14 versus UCLA, driving in 14 runs in the two series, is hitting .440 with six doubles, a quartet of homers and a team-leading 18 RBIs. Samuelson has four doubles, a triple and a home run within his .327 average at the plate, driving in nine runs. He produced an eight-game hitting streak to open the season and has reached base in all 13 games played thus far.
Thorpe (2-0, 2.74 ERA), Weston (1-1, 3.54 ERA) and Alvarez (3-0, 2.84 ERA) have anchored themselves in the starting rotation while relievers Derek True, Kyle Scott and Dylan Villalobos — all have ERAs under 2.00.
For the second time in the last five years, Cal Poly is playing all of its games in the Golden State. The 2017 squad also played all 56 games in California, going 28-28. The Mustangs also will play 33 of its 56 games inside Baggett Stadium, opening the season with 17 of their first 23 games at home.
Cal Poly won the Big West title in 2014 and has placed second six times (including three straight from 2017-19), 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 has had just three losing seasons since 2000 and has reached the 30-win mark 12 times this century. The Mustangs have won 194 of their last 280 home games for a 69.3 winning percentage.
Lee (554-435-2) surpassed Fresno State’s Bob Bennett for the Big West record for overall wins with the 2-1 series-opening win at USC in late February. During the UC Davis series in 2019, Lee eclipsed 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 reached the 500-victory milestone on April 20, 2018, with a 5-4 triumph over Long Beach State. He earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13, 2017 against Gonzaga and his 1,000th career victory with a 3-0 triumph at UC Santa Barbara on May 23, 2019. He currently has a 1,014-676-5 record over 34-plus seasons as a head coach.
Next week, Cal Poly returns home for a four-game Big West Conference series against newcomer UC San Diego. Games at Baggett Stadium are scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, a noon doubleheader Saturday and a 1 p.m. finale Sunday.
- Eric Burdick, Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Communications
Jason Anderson is the Digital Producer for the Santa Maria Times. He can be reached at 805-739-2213
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!