Improved execution defensively and timely hitting paved the way for the Cal Poly baseball team to win its first Big West Conference series of the season over the weekend at UC Irvine.
The Mustangs took two of three games against the host Anteaters — winning Friday’s opener 3-2 in 10 innings, and rallying for a 6-5 victory in Sunday’s finale — after losing five of six games to end nonconference play.
It was an encouraging sign for Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee, who pointed to the Mustangs’ 2-10 road record coming into the weekend during a postgame interview with Cal Poly play-by-play broadcaster Chris Sylvester.
“Not only did we not start off very well in nonconference, we were a very poor team on the road,” Lee said. “So, getting one of your four conference road series out of the way and winning that series and actually with a chance for the sweep, which was the disappointing part of it.”
The Mustangs (10-17, 2-1 Big West) sit in a four-way tie with Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and UC Davis atop the conference standings heading into this week’s three-game series against Hawaii at Baggett Stadium in San Luis Obispo.
Here are three things we learned about Cal Poly this weekend:
1. Sophomore shortstop Kyle Marinconz gave the Mustangs a significant boost offensively.
An honorable mention all-Big West selection as a true freshman last spring, Marinconz turned in perhaps the best weekend of his sophomore season against UC Irvine.
Marinconz had consecutive three-hit performances and drove in the tying and go-ahead runs during Sunday’s victory. He finished the series 7-for-12 with a double, three RBI and lifted his batting average to .262.
Marinconz did not commit an error in several opportunities defensively, part of a much-improved team performance on that side of the ball. Cal Poly has committed a conference-high 44 errors in 27 games, but played error-free baseball Saturday and Sunday.
“When you commit errors you just tax your pitching staff,” Lee said. “What you do on Friday affects what you do in your bullpen on Saturday and Sunday. We were good, especially the last couple days.”
2. Reliever Michael Clark has emerged as the Mustangs’ most consistent pitcher out of the bullpen.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore made only two appearances as a freshman last year, giving up six runs on three hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning.
Clark came back with something to prove this spring, and he’s been dialed in from the start. He pitched four scoreless innings and did not allow a hit during Friday’s extra-inning win, and followed that up with two more scoreless innings Sunday.
Clark was credited with the pitching victory in both outings, improving his overall record to 4-0 this season — the second-most wins among Big West pitchers — and lowering his ERA to 1.73.
“He’s been one of those guys that’s taken everything and run with it,” Lee said. “Got his opportunity and been really consistent, and he wants the ball.”
On Monday afternoon, Clark was selected as the Big West Pitcher of the Week for the first time in his career.
As a staff, Cal Poly posted a 2.96 ERA with 17 strikeouts against 10 walks in the three-game series.
3. Freshman second baseman Bradlee Beesley will be sidelined for the Hawaii series.
The latest in a season-long string of injuries, Lee said he does not expect Beesley to play this weekend against the Rainbow Warriors after sustaining a concussion Sunday.
Beesley is one of four Mustangs to start all 27 games this season. The San Leandro High School graduate has been Cal Poly’s No. 3 hitter for much of the year, and holds a .270 batting average to go with eight doubles and 16 runs.
Beesley experienced some expected first-year troubles defensively early this season but has settled into a groove since moving from shortstop to second base.
Seniors Brett Binning and Alec Smith, along with true freshmen Scott Ogrin and Jack Kuzma could all challenge for more playing time in Beesley’s absence.
“It’ll give somebody else an opportunity, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Lee said. “Better each and every one of our ballplayers, and hopefully they can contribute each and every game to help us have a chance at winning.”