The Mustangs’ luck seems to have run out.
In the eighth inning of the second game of this past weekend’s series against undefeated UCLA, starting pitcher Matt Leonard made his way into the dugout. He had just pitched seven innings without allowing an earned run. The Mustangs held the advantage, 3-2, and Eugene Wright held the key to defeating the Bruins, a feat that no team had accomplished all season.
With a runner on first, two strikes and one away, Wright hurled the pitch toward the plate.
Midway between the at-bat, the third base umpire raced down the baseline screaming for time. A ball from the dugout had made its way onto the playing field.
Even though the batter swung and missed, there was no strikeout. The play was redone.
The batter then singled through the middle of the infield and sparked a two-run rally that eventually led to a Mustang loss.
“Games just aren’t going our way,” catcher Ross Brayton said.
The Mustangs stand at (7-16). They are 10 wins behind where they were at this point a year ago. If the Mustangs were looking to carry momentum from last year’s record-breaking season, it hasn’t happened. It could be the hitting, it could be the pitching, but whatever it is, the Mustangs aren’t fans of excuses.
“Yeah, we haven’t had some tough breaks go our way,” outfielder Luke Yoder said. “But we can’t define our season by getting the short end of the stick. That’s just creating excuses for why we’re doing as bad as we are.”
This weekend, the Mustangs will have a way to reverse their fate with a clean slate at the start of conference play this season. Cal Poly will travel to UC Riverside Friday for their first Big West series of the season.
“What it really comes down to is that we are not playing to our capabilities,” Yoder said. “We have the capability to do very well.”
A year ago, the Mustangs closed the season with the run at the record books. They finished with a 37-21 overall record and clinched the first NCAA regional playoff berth in school history. This season hasn’t reflected the same success. Cal Poly has yet to win a weekend series — or hold a winning record — all season. Not to mention, the Mustangs have tasted defeat in 10 of their last 11 games.
Recently, the games have been closer. The seven-run deficits have dwindled to single-run leads, and the Mustangs have been one big hit away from several victories.
“We feel like we are on the right path right now,” Brayton said. “We’ve been working hard, and we feel things are going to turn around soon — start going our way.”
The competition could be a factor. Head coach Larry Lee is not one to stray away from a challenge; he is known for scheduling challenging opponents. This season, the Mustangs have squared off against four Pac-10 opponents and traveled to Arizona for the Coca–Cola classic — a tournament that included teams like FIU, Arizona State and Oregon State. But, in each contest, Cal Poly kept the games close.
“It helps us out knowing that we are fully capable of playing with those top teams,” Yoder said.
What’s the way to get out of this funk? How do they raise the combined .285 batting average? How do they lower the staff 6.73 ERA?
“We need to continue to work hard,” Yoder said. “No matter how tired you are, you have to try and get out (onto the field).”
The Mustangs will have a special incentive to work this week, as opposed to others. As far as they’re concerned — this weekend — it is a new season.
“Stepping into conference we are 0-0. It’s a new season; it’s a new win loss column … We have an opportunity for us — as a whole team — to have a clean slate and go out there to play to the best of our capabilities,” Yoder said. “What’s happened earlier on in the season is behind us.”
Not including Wednesday’s 7-5 loss against Loyola Marymount, freshman Mitch Haniger leads the Mustangs with a team-high .337 batting average coupled with 17 RBIs and a 14-game hitting streak. Along with Haniger, four other Mustangs are hitting above .300. Outfielder, Bobby Crocker is hitting .317, second Baseman Matt Jensen is hitting .316, Brayton stands at .311 and Yoder is hitting an even .300 on the season.
The Mustangs first conference opponent UC Riverside (12-8) may be a problem. The Highlanders are rolling off three victories in a four-game series against Saint Mary’s this past weekend. They will send starting pitcher Matt Andriese (2-2, 6.27) to the mound Thursday, starting pitcher Dustin Emmons (4-1, 2.87) on Friday and starting pitcher Matt Larkins (2-2, 5.06) on Saturday.
Even if the early non-conference schedule has not rolled the Mustangs’ way, every game means experience.
“It sucks; we don’t like losing,” Brayton said. “We are frustrated with it.”
First pitch is set for Thursday at 6 p.m.