Cal Poly baseball clinches Big West series vs. Hawaii
Cal Poly’s Alex McKenna couldn’t quite put his finger on what exactly changed for the Mustangs offensively during their three-game series against Hawaii this weekend at Baggett Stadium.
Perhaps it was the extra repetitions in practice, or the uptick in intensity with the start of Big West Conference play. Whatever the reason, the sophomore center fielder and leadoff hitter set an aggressive tone at the plate that translated down through the rest of the lineup.
The result was a second straight series victory for Cal Poly, which improved to 12-18 overall and 4-2 in the Big West following Sunday’s 7-1 victory.
A Mustang offense that’s been inconsistent at times this season produced 42 hits against the visiting Rainbow Warriors (19-11, 1-2 Big West), including a season-high 22 in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
“We weren’t swinging the bat that well to start the year,” said McKenna, who went a combined 8-for-15 with three runs and four RBI in the series. “Now we’re starting to see the dividends of working hard in the cage and really just kind of changing and refining our approach, especially with runners in scoring position.”
It will be a quick turnaround for Cal Poly, which hosts Santa Clara in a nonconference game Tuesday and will play a three-game series at UC Davis beginning at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. That series was moved up a day because of the Easter holiday on Sunday.
Here are three things we learned about Cal Poly this weekend:
1. Sophomore right-hander Bobby Ay has solidified his status as the Sunday starter.
The lanky 6-foot-3, 185-pound Ay scattered five hits — all singles — over 7 1/3 innings. He did not allow a hit until the sixth inning and worked around five walks to strikeout six.
“Bobby Ay was great today in very offensive conditions,” head coach Larry Lee said.
Hawaii was the highest-scoring team in the conference through the first two months of the season, making Ay’s performance even more impressive. Despite the high number of walks, the Rainbow Warriors never seemed to get their timing down against the sophomore.
“His change-up was on,” said senior first baseman Michael Sanderson, who went 4-for-4 with two runs Sunday.
2. When Cal Poly limits errors defensively, they can play with any team in the Big West.
Although the Mustangs committed one error in each of the three games against Hawaii, it was a noticeable improvement from the rest of the season.
Cal Poly has committed 47 errors in 30 games, something that makes it hard for any team to win consistently. But Lee said he was pleased with the defensive performance, particularly with starting second baseman Bradlee Beesley out of the lineup with an injury.
“We’re not making as many routine errors,” Lee said, “even though we didn’t play that well the first game of the series. We’re getting better.”
Lee said he expects Beesley to return for Tuesday’s game, and he plans to try the freshman at third base for the first time this season. Fellow freshman Scott Ogrin played well at second in place of Beesley, and Lee wants to have both of their bats in the lineup when possible.
3. The heart of the batting order is coming to life.
Sophomore shortstop Kyle Marinconz followed up a 7-for-12 performance at UC Irvine last week — including a pair of three-hit games — by going 4-for-14 with three doubles and three RBI. Marinconz turned in his fifth three-hit game of the season during Saturday’s wild 15-5 victory, and all three were doubles.
Sanderson, a 57-game starter at third base in 2016, continued to work his way back from a groin injury that force him to miss five games last month. Since taking over as the everyday first baseman, Sanderson has produced four multi-hit games, including the second four-hit game of his career Sunday.
Lee said the increased production starts with McKenna at the top.
“Offense is always contagious,” Lee said. “If your better players can get hot, then it gives everybody else a sigh of relief and they’re able to go out and feel comfortable swinging the bat.”