The Cal Poly baseball team will welcome three national powers to Baggett Stadium during the upcoming season’s schedule, which includes 10 games against Pac-12 opponents and also features an 18-game homestand stretching nearly an entire month.
Announced Thursday, the Mustangs’ 2014 nonconference schedule opens with a three-game, season-opening February home series against Kansas State, which reached the NCAA Super Regionals last season, and ends with a four-game series against Cal in San Luis Obispo in March.
Four-time national champion and defending Big West Conference champion Cal State Fullerton also visits Baggett this season.
The matchup with the Golden Bears falls in the middle of a stretch from March 11 to April 8 that will see Cal Poly play three nonconference series, two Big West Conference series and single games against CSU Bakersfield and Saint Mary’s — all at home.
After playing 11 of their first 15 games on the road, the Mustangs will need to string together home victories in pursuit of a return trip to the postseason.
“It all boils down to you just need to win,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “You just need to win games and see if you can rack up a high number by the end of the season.”
The Mustangs did exactly that last season, winning 15 of their first 17 games, including taking two of three at Kansas State. Cal Poly rode that early-season success and a solid RPI ranking to an at-large berth the Los Angeles Regional, only the Mustangs’ second Division I postseason appearance in program history.
Since the first berth came in 2009, Cal Poly has yet to make back-to-back regional appearances, although there have been a couple of close calls.
“You have to play the right teams,” Lee said. “The teams that can help you out RPI-wise. You’d like to play quality teams outside of the west. Kansas State is great to play.”
The Mustangs will also play three games at defending national champion UCLA. Last year, the Bruins helped knock Cal Poly out of the postseason but only after the Mustangs blew a 4-0 sixth-inning lead to the Bruins in a 6-4 loss in the second round of the NCAA regional.
Cal Poly will finish an eight-game road stretch following the home series against Kansas State with a three-game series at USC.
“It’s a very challenging schedule as always,” Lee said, “but it’s having those three Pac-12 schools for 10 games and two of the series on the road. Those will be a good challenge for us.”
The Mustangs could start the season without sophomore catcher Brian Mundell, who hit a team-leading 11 home runs with 42 RBI and a .265 batting average as the starting designated hitter last season.
Mundell had Tommy John surgery in his throwing elbow during the offseason. Lee said Mundell has already been cleared for some defensive drills and should be able to take full swings by December.
Cal Poly lost seniors Joey Wagman, Denver Chavez, Elliot Stewart and Matt Russell, and junior pitchers Chase Johnson and Michael Holback left to the MLB Draft.
Outfielder David Armendariz, a starter for most of the past three seasons, transferred to Cal Poly Pomona after hitting .271 with three home runs and 23 RBI as a junior.
In addition to likely staff ace Matt Imhof, a junior left-hander who spent time with the U.S. national team in the offseason, the Mustangs do, however, return eight position players who started at least 20 games for last season’s 40-19 team and brought in Santa Barbara City College transfer outfielder Zach Zehner, who hit .316 with five home runs and 36 RBI in 58 games in the Northwoods League this past summer.
Junior outfielder Alex Michaels also returns after suffering a season-ending knee injury after just six games last season. With starting outfielders Nick Torres and Jordan Ellis back, competition will be fierce for playing time.
“We just have kind of an abundance of outfielders and options out there,” Lee said.