The Cal Poly baseball team put together a solid showing during its nonconference series at UCLA over the weekend, winning Saturday’s game and falling in a pair of one-run decisions.
The Mustangs (19-23) stepped away from Big West Conference play to take on the Bruins inside Jackie Robinson Stadium with an opportunity to improve their RPI against a top-60 Pac-12 Conference opponent.
UCLA (21-19) got the better of Cal Poly in Friday’s series opener, a 2-1 contest that was scoreless until the seventh inning. A 13-hit outburst Saturday afternoon propelled the Mustangs to a 6-3 victory, and they fell in close game Sunday, 5-4.
Another four-game week begins for Cal Poly at 6 p.m. Tuesday when Pepperdine visits Baggett Stadium in the final nonconference home matchup of the 2017 season.
A three-game series at first-place Long Beach State will follow, which is perhaps the most significant Big West series of the season for the Mustangs.
With that in mind, here are three things we learned about Cal Poly against UCLA.
Cal Poly’s pitching rotation can compete with anybody
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but the Mustangs’ weekend starters of Erich Uelmen, Spencer Howard and Bobby Ay continue to prove they can go toe-to-toe with any lineup.
Uelmen set the tone Friday night in Westwood by allowing two runs on six hits (five singles) with six strikeouts and one walk. Those who have followed Cal Poly this season know Uelmen’s 2-7 record is not an accurate reflection of his talent.
Howard benefited from an early 4-0 lead Saturday, and allowed one earned run over 5 2/3 innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He improved to 4-1 on the year, and his 2.08 ERA is the second-lowest mark among Big West peers.
UCLA eventually broke out against Ay in the rubber match, scoring five runs on six hits through the first three innings. Senior Slater Lee then took over and held the Bruins to one hit over the next 4 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
Lee, sophomore Michael Clark and junior Trent Shelton were superb out of the bullpen. They combined to pitch 9 2/3 innings, allowing one hit and no runs or walks against the Bruins.
The top of Cal Poly’s batting order put together another strong weekend
Leadoff hitter Alex McKenna, who was named the Big West Fielder Player of the Week after the Cal State Fullerton series, went a combined 5-for-13 with a double, home run and three runs over the weekend.
Freshman Bradlee Beesley went 6-for-13, including his fifth three-hit game of the season Saturday. Sophomore Kyle Marinconz finished the series 6-for-12, and cleanup hitter Michael Sanderson went 5-for-13, including the first home run of his two-year Cal Poly career on Sunday.
As a team, the Mustangs posted a collective .287 batting average and outscored UCLA 11-10.
The top four batting averages in the Big West during conference play all belong to Cal Poly players: Beesley (.436), Colby Barrick (.432), McKenna (.421) and Sanderson (.420).
The Mustangs will have to be at their best to win the series at Long Beach State
Cal Poly has won all four of its Big West series to this point, but the No. 14-ranked Dirtbags could be the toughest challenge yet.
Long Beach State is 10-2 in conference play, having swept UC Riverside, UC Irvine and UC Davis. The Dirtbags also swept a top-25 Cal State Fullerton team during nonconference play in late March.
Playing at Blair Field in Long Beach also has been a difficult task for the Mustangs historically. They were 7-2 in the Big West when they went to Long Beach last spring, and that team was swept and never fully recovered over the final month of the season.
The Dirtbags are 14-3 at home in 2017.