For senior outfielder Luke Yoder, it is his last season he will ever play as a Mustang. For him, it may even be one of the last times he ever plays baseball again. So he is going to make the most of every play, even if that means sacrificing his body.
In the fifth inning of the Mustangs’ 18-13 loss against UC Irvine Sunday afternoon, Anteater’s catcher Francis Larson hit a deep fly ball to left field in a stadium where the wind was howling.
As Yoder picked up the ball off the bat, he started running towards the wall. As the ball skied higher, center fielder Adam Melker made his way over to back up his teammate.
But as the ball started making its way down, Melker noticed Yoder was running full speed en-route to the left field wall. He tried to warn him.
“I yelled ‘wall’ late,” Melker said. “I didn’t help him out too much.”
Despite the yells from center field, Yoder knew where he was. He saw the ball, and he knew what he needed to do to make the play.
“I just ran back on it,” Yoder said. “It kept carrying real well — especially with the wind today — balls carried really well. As soon as I heard the dirt I took two steps on the dirt and then I jumped.”
With a leap, Yoder smacked into the outfield wall at an attempt to catch the fly ball. The ball hit off his glove, fell to the ground and caromed to Melker. Melker turned around and fired the ball back into the infield.
When the play was over, Melker turned back around to check on his teammate. The sight wasn’t pleasant. Yoder was lying motionless on the warning track.
“It hurt … I wasn’t really able to get up right away,” Yoder said. “I kind of banged my head up a little bit, but for the most part (lying there) was just kind of to make sure I gathered myself before I tried to go do anything.”
Yoder then hopped back to his feet and stayed in the game.
“Luke Yoder is one of the toughest kids I have ever met,” Melker said. “At first, I thought he was knocked out.”
But the effort wasn’t enough to lift the Mustangs past the Anteaters, as Cal Poly (14-29, 6-12 Big West) suffered a loss in the final game of a series against UC Irvine.
“(We had) no command of the strike zone,” head coach Larry Lee said. “From an offensive standpoint, we swung the bat extremely well and played good defense.”
At this point in a losing season, the Mustangs may not have a chance at a playoff berth, but that’s not keeping guys like Yoder from finding reasons to run out onto the field. Postseason scenarios aside, it’s just about baseball at this point.
“It’s my last college season,” Yoder said. “It’s the last time I will get to play college baseball and you try to make the most of it. Especially each and every game, you don’t want to give up… you got to make sure you play all nine innings.”
With his team down 8-3, Yoder belted a pitch over the center field wall to cut the Mustangs deficit to two. In the ninth, he doubled to right center to bring home Jordan Hadlock and cut the lead to eight.
“You always got to play hard,” Yoder said. “It’s something fun. You know, you (may) never play in this atmosphere again.”
The Mustangs went onto score three more runs in the final inning. First baseman David Van Ostrand singled down the left-field line for one RBI and designated hitter Mitch Haniger singled to center field for two more RBIs. But the late rally and 23 hit effort — seven more than the anteaters — fell short.
“That’s just baseball,” Melker said. “Sometimes you outhit the other team and they hit well too — but sometimes hits don’t equate to wins. It’s just how it works out.”
Melker finished the game with a team-best four hits — the second time he has hit safely four times in his career.
“I was just seeing the ball pretty well,” Melker said. “I had a pretty good approach today.”
But Yoder and Melker’s performances were overshadowed by UC Irvine’s Larson and Jeff Cusick — who both went 4-for-6 with seven RBIs — paired with starting pitcher Eugene Wright allowing nine runs in 4 innings of work.
“Pitching is the one area that needs to be your string point,” Lee said. “You saw a team that had 23 hits and still lost by five runs. You are rarely going to — if ever — see that.”
But even with the Mustangs aren’t throwing in the towels. Just like Yoder, the Mustangs are going to give 100 percent for the remaining 12 games on the schedule – even if the postseason is out of the picture.
“We have good guys, they don’t care that the playoffs are out of it,” Melker said. “They come out to work and get better. We have pride.”
The Mustangs will return to action next weekend in a three-game conference series against UC Davis.