Cal Poly, which finished second in the Big West three consecutive years (2017-19) and earned wins over No. 1 Vanderbilt and No. 5 Michigan in last year’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season, hosts Nevada for a four-game weekend series inside Baggett Stadium kicking off the long-awaited 2021 campaign.
First pitches are set for Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m. and Monday at 3 o’clock. All four games of the series will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 with Chris Sylvester or Jay Holloway 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.
Before the 2020 season was halted last 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 UConn 5-0 behind the combined two-hit pitching of Taylor Dollard and Dylan Villalobos.
The Mustangs, however, won just 10 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.
Nevada was 2-12 a year ago, losing its first 10 games before twice defeating California Baptist.
Cal Poly has won its season opener seven times in the last nine years. Mustang head coach Larry Lee is 11-7 in the first game of the year.
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 is returning 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 will move from first base across the diamond to third base this year.
In addition to Thorpe, Scott and True, the pitching staff will be led by returnees Andrew Alvarez and Bryan Woo in the starting rotation and Dylan Villalobos out of the bullpen. Thorpe is expected to start the season opener Friday night.
All three Boise State transfers figure to play prominent roles with the Mustangs this spring. Southpaw Travis Weston will be Cal Poly's Saturday starter, Joe Yorke is penciled on the depth chart No. 1 at first base and Reagan Doss is listed No. 1 in right field.
Cal Poly’s major losses from last year’s squad were starting right-handed pitcher Taylor Dollard to the Major League Draft (Seattle Mariners, fifth round) and outfielders Bradlee Beesley (Cubs) and Elijah Greene (Angels), both of whom signed free agent contracts last summer. Dollard was one of just 12 players from California colleges selected in the 2020 draft.
Nevada returns 23 letter winners, including seven position players who started at least seven games and all five pitchers who started the 14 contests the Wolf Pack played in 2020.
Heading the list of returnees are first baseman Dillan Shrum, third baseman Joshua Zamora and shortstop Wyatt Tilley. Shrum hit .265 with four home runs and seven RBIs in 14 games a year ago while Zamora batted .236 and Tilley ,234. As a team, the Wolf Pack hit just .188 in 2020.
Owen Sharts (0-3, 4.91 ERA in 2020), Jake Jackson (1-3, 3.00 ERA) and Shane O’Malley (1-2, 4.29 ERA) all made four starts on the mound a year ago and all are right-handers.
TJ Bruce is in his sixth season as head coach at Nevada. The Long Beach State graduate owns a 117-122 overall mark. The coaching staff includes two others with Long Beach State ties in former Dirtbag head coach Troy Buckley and pitcher Abe Alvarez.
Before he was hired as head coach of the Wolf Park in June 2015, Bruce was an assistant coach at UCLA for five seasons, helping the Bruins to three Pac-12 championships and the 2013 College World Series title. Bruce was an assistant coach at Long Beach State from 2006-10. The St. John Bosco High School graduate played college ball at Cerritos College (two years), Texas Tech (one year) and Long Beach State (one year) before becoming an assistant coach for one season at Cerritos College.
Nevada has made four NCAA postseason appearances (all from 1994-2000) and has claimed five conference titles in program history.
Cal Poly and Nevada are meeting for the first time since 2007 when the Mustangs swept a three-game series at Baggett Stadium. The Mustangs also swept a three-game set at Reno in 2004 but trail in the all-time series, 19-9 Larry Lee is 6-0 against Nevada while TJ Bruce is meeting Cal Poly for the first time as a head coach.
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, 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 187 of their last 270 home games for a 69.3 winning percentage.
Lee (546-430-2) is one win shy of the Big West record for overall wins held by Fresno State’s Bob Bennett (547) and, during the UC Davis series in 2019, he 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 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 opens the 2021 campaign with a 1,006-671-5 record over 34 seasons.
Next week, Cal Poly visits USC of the Pac-12 Conference for a three-game weekend series (Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 2 o’clock and Sunday at 1 p.m.
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