Cal Poly

Cal Poly baseball team returns to Big West Conference action against first-place Hawaii

The Cal Poly baseball team opens a three-game Big West Conference series at first-place Hawaii on Friday night.
The Cal Poly baseball team opens a three-game Big West Conference series at first-place Hawaii on Friday night.

Spending a three-day weekend in Hawaii might sound like a good way to escape the realities of spring quarter. But for the Cal Poly baseball team, traveling to Honolulu this time of year is strictly business.

Coming off a series victory against previously unbeaten Cal State Fullerton last weekend, the Mustangs now turn their attention to the Big West Conference-leading Rainbow Warriors.

Hawaii (16-15, 5-1 Big West) swept UC Davis last week and returns to the 4,312-seat Les Murakami Stadium at 9:35 p.m. Friday for the series opener with Cal Poly (19-12, 2-1). The two teams will meet again at 9:35 p.m. Saturday and close the series at 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

Longtime head coach Larry Lee said the more than 5,000-mile round trip can be tough for players, and he was pleased to get it out of the way early in the conference schedule.

“You’re getting back to LAX at 5 in the morning and busing to try to get to a 10 o’clock class on Monday,” Lee said. “And it’s a difficult place to play.”

The Rainbow Warriors are 10-13 at home this season. They rely on a balanced offense that’s hitting .272 as a team — the second-highest mark in the Big West — and they’ve successfully stolen 22 bases on 30 attempts.

Senior shortstop Jacob Sheldon-Collins is coming off a stellar performance against UC Davis, which earned him Big West Field Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career.

The Big West hitting leader with a .412 average, Sheldon-Collins tied career-high marks for hits (four) and RBI (three) during Hawaii’s 6-5 come-from-behind win over the Aggies in the series opener. After going 3-for-5 in the finale, Sheldon Collins extended his hitting streak to seven games, with five multihit efforts during that stretch.

Cal Poly got much of its offensive production from a relatively unexpected source when facing the defending conference champion Titans.

Junior outfielder and designated hitter Kevin Morgan went a combined 6-for-9 with two RBI and scored twice in the three-game series, raising his average 118 points. Morgan’s 11 runs driven in this season are tied with Cooper Moore for the most among the Mustangs’ key reserves.

“Going into Hawaii, you know, it’s fun but it’s also, you’ve to get it done,” Morgan said. “They’ll be good. We’ll be ready, though.”

Friday night’s pitching matchup will feature Cal Poly sophomore Kyle Smith (4-2, 2.81 ERA) taking on Hawaii junior Brendan Hornung (3-5, 2.58 ERA). On Saturday, sophomore Erich Uelmen (4-0, 2.81 ERA) will start for the Mustangs, and the Rainbow Warriors will counter with senior Kyle Von Ruden (5-1, 2.39 ERA).

Sophomore Jarred Zill (2-1, 2.74 ERA) turned in arguably his best outing of the season last week against Cal State Fullerton, and he’s in line to make his fifth start during Sunday’s finale. Hawaii is scheduled to bring out fourth-year junior Alex Fitchett (3-3, 4.67 ERA) to close the series.

Big West Conference Baseball

Who: Cal Poly (19-11) at Hawaii (16-15)

Where: Les Murakami Stadium, Honolulu

When: Friday (9:35 p.m.), Saturday (9:35 p.m.), Sunday (4:05 p.m.)