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After years of anticipation, CSUB is finally set to begin the era of Big West baseball

NM St at CSUB Baseball_12

CSUB shortstop Evan Berkey dives for the ball during a 2018 game. Berkey and his teammates will begin the Big West era of CSUB baseball on Friday when they open a four-game series against UC Riverside.

A year ago, Tyler Jorgensen didn't think he'd be around long enough to be offended by a 2021 preseason poll.

While Cal State Bakersfield was set to make the jump from the WAC to the Big West this season, Jorgensen, a senior on the 2020 Roadrunner baseball team, expected to be elsewhere by the time 2021 came about.

But once a well-documented global pandemic forced most of last season to be canceled, Jorgensen still had a year of eligibility remaining and elected to return to CSUB this spring. Already motivated by a lost season, his desire to close his college career on a good note only intensified when he saw what people thought of his team's chances in its new league.

In one of the most competitive conferences in the country, the Roadrunners were picked to finish dead last in the 11-team Big West. The 18 points they received in that poll were 11 less than projected 10th-place team UC Riverside and 15 less than a UC San Diego squad playing its first season at the Division-I level.

Naturally, this news didn't go over well in the clubhouse.

"I get it, we're the new guys and stuff like that, but I don't think we're going to be the 11th-best team in this conference, for sure," said Jorgensen, whose .423 batting average and six RBIs are a team-high through seven games this season. "If you project us to finish last behind a team that's making the jump to D-I ... I thought that was major disrespect for us."

The Roadrunners (3-4) will get their first chance to prove their detractors wrong this weekend when they host their first-ever Big West series against UC Riverside. First pitch for the opener of a four-game set at Hardt Field will begin at 6 p.m. Friday.

With his team fresh off a pair of exciting, one-run wins over the University of the Pacific, coach Jeremy Beard says there's been a high level of energy all week during practice, which he sees as a good sign for a group aiming to make a strong first impression.

"Our kids are showing a level of energy and excitement right now that we love to see," Beard said. "They're prepared and ready and it's nice to see them bouncing around, understanding we're against some stiff competition. They're certainly training at a level that gives us an impression they want to win."

An opportunity to grab a few early league wins appears to be there for the taking. While CSUB enters Friday on a two-game win streak, the Highlanders come in struggling.

After winning their first two games against a UC Irvine team picked to finish third in the Big West, Riverside has proceeded to drop its last five, allowing 51 runs during that stretch.

Non-conference games against Riverside didn't generally go CSUB's way. All time, the 'Runners are just 8-17 against the Highlanders, including losses of 12-1 and 6-3 when they squared off in 2019.

But with a new team coming in for a set of games carrying far more significance, Jorgensen says confidence has been elevated going into this weekend, and hopes a good first showing will give way to a solid first season in the league.

"We don't want to ease into anything," he said. "We want to compete right away and I think getting a couple wins this week would be really big for our confidence."

The teams will also play a noon/3 p.m. double-header on Saturday before closing the series at 1 p.m. on Sunday. All games will be broadcast on ESPN3.