Things are beginning to look up for the Cal Poly baseball team.
After the Mustangs were swept in each of their first three weekend series to begin the season 2-9, they have won 17 of 26 games and sit atop the Big West.
That includes sweeps of their own in the past two weekend series against Big West opponents UC Davis and Long Beach State — both on the road. At 10-2 in conference play, Cal Poly narrowly trails rival and ninth-ranked UC Santa Barbara (31-5 overall, 8-2 Big West) for first place. Depending on what happens over the weekend — with UCSB at Riverside and Cal Poly playing host to non-conference opponent USC — the Mustangs could find themselves sitting atop the league with a month left to play.
Cal Poly (19-18 overall) has defied expectations. The preseason coaches poll had the Mustangs finishing fourth in the conference.
Cal State Fullerton was selected to repeat as Big West champion, followed by UC Irvine and Long Beach State. Fullerton is currently fifth, UC Irvine is third and Long Beach State is in last place.
Cal Poly’s success has relied upon timely hitting and some of the best pitching in the Big West.
The Mustangs returned 10 players who pitched last season, including those who started 40 of the Mustang’s 57 games. It has showed in their outings.
Bobby Ay, who missed much of last season due to injury, is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.62 in 10 starts. Senior Michael Clark has been stellar out of the bullpen, pitching in long and short relief. Clark (4-1) has pitched 47 1/3 innings with an ERA of 1.71 in 21 appearances and six saves. Senior Jared Zill, who was also injured for much of last season, is third in the Big West in strikeouts with 62 in eight starts.
The Mustangs are 12-3 in games decided by two runs or less.
Bradlee Beesley, who was the lone proven player offensively entering the season, is hitting .279 with 24 RBI and 13 doubles. Beesley hit his first home run of the season against the Long Beach State on Saturday.
However, it’s been the relative unknowns who have propelled the Mustangs into contention.
Sophomore outfielder Elijah Greene leads the Mustangs offensively, hitting .299 with three doubles and 14 RBI. Sophomore first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .283 with 18 RBI, and freshman infielder Connor Gurnik is hitting .279 with six doubles and 13 RBI.
Freshman Conagher Sands has a 12-game hitting streak and is hitting .355 in 23 games as the designated hitter.
The Mustangs are looking to make an NCAA appearance and win a Big West title for the first time since 2014. Cal Poly was the Big West runner-up in each of the past two seasons
Following the USC series, Cal Poly will take on Fresno State on the road Tuesday. The Mustangs resume conference play next weekend with another home series against Hawaii.
The Trojans (17-21-1, 8-9-1) of the Pac-12 Conference have had the third toughest schedule in the nation, according to the NCAA’s strength of schedule index, with their opponents owning an average .617 winning percentage.
USC is hitting .273 as a team, with 22 homers and has four players hitting over .300. Three players have hit 15 of the Trojans’ home runs: Matthew Acosta, CJ Stubbs and Jamal O’Guinn.
The series will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.