It took the Cal Poly baseball program 20 years of Division I competition to reach last season’s peaks.
A program-record 47 victories helped secure the Mustangs’ first Big West Conference title and brought an NCAA regional to San Luis Obispo for the first time.
With preseason practice opening today, this year’s edition of the Mustangs have a lot to live up to, but expectations haven’t lessened, even with All-America second baseman Mark Mathias on the shelf for at least the first month of the season.
“We just can’t afford to take a step back,” Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said. “We need to keep pushing the envelope.”
Cal Poly has been on the upswing, improving its results each of the past three seasons, including two consecutive postseason berths. The pressure is on to continue the trend, but at the same time, the success has bred confidence.
“What it does is it raises your returning players’ and incoming players’ expectations, and it raises the bar,” Lee said, “and that’s the important aspect of having a successful season.
“We don’t think about number of wins. We just think about trying to win the Big West but more importantly just to get a regional berth. It’s a difficult thing to accomplish.”
A lot of that hinges on pitching.
Over the next three weekends of intrasquad competition before the Feb. 13 opener at Baylor, Lee will be paying special attention to constructing the rotation and bullpen.
Junior righthander Casey Bloomquist figures to securely move into the Friday night starter role formerly occupied by lefty Matt Imhof, who was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Phillies last June. Bloomquist was 12-2 with a 1.56 ERA on Sundays last year.
Senior lefty Taylor Chris should fill in capably for former closer Reed Reilly, a seventh-round pick of the Boston Red Sox, and with a 4-1 record, a 1.61 ERA and five saves in 2014, Chris is primed for another big season.
Danny Zandona (4-0, 3.49 ERA) also returns in the bullpen, but Cal Poly did lose senior Bryan Granger (2-0, 2.73 ERA), who had season-ending elbow surgery in the offseason.
Justin Calomeni (8-2, 3.68 ERA) is being counted on to fill another spot in the weekend rotation as is Slater Lee, another regular starter last year. But both sophomores are coming off knee surgery.
The Mustangs also have 10 pitchers listed as freshmen on the roster, including walk-on Spencer Howard from Templeton High.
At this point, positions are open for competition. Things are mostly set in the field, however. There will already be shuffling because of Mathias’ shoulder surgery, limiting the options.
Mathias is scheduled to resume hitting in early March and could possibly return to the field in April.
For now, Lee is hoping the confidence built up during the past three seasons helps carry the team to continued success.
“We have concerns both offensively and defensively,” Lee said, “but players can develop as the season goes on, and our players think they’re good. That trumps everything else. As long as they think they’re good, then that outweighs a lot of deficiencies. We just need to go out and come to work every day and get better. That was the one thing we extremely well last year. We came to win every single game, and that’s always easier said than done.”