The numbers weren’t there and the postseason was nowhere in sight. When chins started to get heavy, the Mustangs had no thoughts about giving up on a season prematurely.
“Perseverance” is how senior Luke Yoder described this season.
“We could have thrown the towel in so many times and just given up, but we definitely never let that happen. We continued to fight, battle our ways through these ups and downs,” Yoder said. “Just as long as you never throw in the towel, anything is possible.”
After starting the season 10-27, the Mustangs are now 21-31. They have won 11 of their last 15 games and have doubled a single-digit win total they held for months in a matter of weeks.
“That’s what you’re going to remember,” Yoder said. “Especially here as a senior, you’re not going to remember, ‘Oh, we sucked; we didn’t do too hot.’ You’re going to remember, ‘Hey, we fought and never gave up.’”
The Mustangs will square off against Cal State Bakersfield in the final series of the season at Baggett Stadium this weekend. For seniors Adam Melker, Ross Brayton, David Van Ostrand, Mark DeVincenzi, DJ Mauldin and Yoder it will be the final games they will play as Mustangs.
Their recent momentum will be the key.
“If we were playing as well as we are right now — even not the whole season, just the start of conference — I definitely think we could have won our conference. Not with ease, but we could have been at the top,” Yoder said.
Big West coaches predicted Cal Poly would finish third in the Big West. After threatening for first place a season ago, the Mustangs now find themselves sitting sixth.
“Obviously it’s not the year we expected to have and it kind of sucks our seniors are kind of going out from what we did last year on such a high note, to kind of this year on a low note. I mean, it’s a part of the game,” Brayton said. “But recently we have been playing to the capabilities that we’ve known we have been able to all year. It’s just nice too that our hard work in the offseason is finally paying off.”
In their last 14 games, the Mustangs have hit .335 with 16 home runs. A big difference from the first 36 games of the year when Cal Poly hit just .277. In total, the Mustangs now boast eight players batting over .300. First baseman David Van Ostrand leads the team, hitting .342 with 33 RBIs.
“With the way that we are now, with our pitching, our hitting and our defense, we definitely would have a good record,” Yoder said. “There is no doubt in my mind we would be at 30-plus wins right now.”
Yoder, who is on pace to be the first Mustang to hit .300 in all four years, has been a key element to his team’s recent comeback. Yoder, who hit .301 a season ago, went 7-for-13 with five RBIs and a home run against Pacific last weekend. On the season, he is now hitting .335 with 19 doubles and 13 home runs — the only player on his team to have double digits in both those categories. Not to mention he holds a .665 slugging percentage.
“I’m just really seeing the ball well,” Yoder said. “Even if this weekend doesn’t go as well as I would like, I can still look back upon this year and my entire four years here at Cal Poly as a success. The hard work that I have put in, I have been definitely able to reap those rewards.”
But he and the rest of the senior class are left with one less reward to play for this season — a Big West Championship. It’s perhaps a bit of a sour note for a senior class that reached the NCAA regional tournament for the first time in school history last year. With everything out of the picture, now the Mustangs only have one thing on their minds.
“I just think the way we compete is probably the biggest thing,” Brayton said. “We want to go out there and show everybody this is how we are; this is how we should have been doing.”
For Brayton, playing time in his final series is up in the air. The catcher suffered a concussion in the Mustangs series against UC Davis and sat against Pacific and their midweek game against Loyola Marymount.
“I came in to catch on Friday (against UC Davis) in the ninth inning. A guy swung — and when he did, he hit me in the face, on my mask. It rung my bell pretty good,” Brayton said. “I have to be cleared before I can play.”
If Brayton makes it back onto the field, the .320 batter could serve as a shot of adrenaline to an offense already averaging eight runs in their last five games. If he doesn’t, he will be missing out on more than just the end of his career.
“It’s definitely just something that I will look back on and I will always cherish,” Yoder said.