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The Cal Poly women’s softball team (5-5) continued its preseason this past weekend at the Stanford Nike Invitational.
The Mustangs showed promise by opening the season with multiple victories against top-notch opponents and continued to show their potential this past weekend by winning a pair of games against teams from power conferences, going 2-3 in their five games at Stanford.
On Friday, freshman pitcher Lindsey Chalmers earned her first collegiate victory against Pacific (2-5). Chalmers held the Tigers scoreless through 5 innings and only gave up five hits and four walks.
Sophomore pitcher and reigning Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year Sierra Hyland closed out the remaining 2 innings, giving up just one hit in the process.
Offensively, the Mustangs rushed out of the gates and exploded for five runs in the first inning. Sophomore second baseman Ashley Torino started the scoring outburst when she smacked a two-run double down the right field line. Hyland would help her own cause with a two-run double to right center.
The Mustangs would eventually add one more run in the sixth inning and cruised to an easy 6-0 victory over Pacific.
In the second game of Friday’s double-header, the Mustangs were unable to pull off the upset against Pac-12 powerhouse and host Stanford (5-2).
Hyland, who was on the mound pitching for the Mustangs, was not able to contain the high-powered Cardinal offense. Stanford went off for nine runs in the second inning, a deficit too large for the Mustangs to climb out of. Cal Poly would eventually lose 10-2.
Saturday featured much more competitive games.
Cal Poly’s first opponent was Alabama, a team ranked as high as No. 3, according to the USA Today/NFCA poll. Hyland singlehandedly kept the Mustangs in the game, holding the Crimson Tide to two hits and scoreless for 7 2/3 innings.
Hyland had a no-hitter intact until the fourth inning, when Alabama catcher Chaunsey Bell singled.
She had a workman-like effort, throwing 123 pitches and 73 strikes.
“I’m still working to where I need to be conditioning-wise,” Hyland said. “I’m not where I was at the end of last season in terms of strikes and balls, but I’m getting there.”
Offensively, the Mustangs could not get anything going against the Crimson Tide. Alabama starting pitcher Sydney Littlejohn (4-0) was sensational — she had a perfect game going until she plunked Cal Poly junior infielder Breanna West in the sixth inning.
The Mustangs finally had a rally going in the seventh inning but could not capitalize.
Freshman shortstop Chelsea Convissar was on second base with only one out, but consecutive pop-outs ended the threat.
“We need to be more patient at the plate,” head coach Jenny Condon said. “Sometimes, we rush a little and want to have that big hit, but we need to have that self-discipline and patience to really be effective.”
The Crimson Tide finally broke through the deadlock and won the game 1-0 off a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.
Despite the loss, the Mustangs probably played their best game of the season against one of the toughest opponents they’ll face.
“We had a great game against Alabama, who is a national power and SEC powerhouse,” Condon said. “We missed out on some timely hitting, but other than that, we pitched exceptionally and played a nearly perfect game.”
In the following game later that Saturday, the Mustangs had a lackluster performance, losing 6-3 to the same Pacific squad they had beaten the day before.
Chalmers (1-2) struggled and gave up six earned runs on nine hits in 6 innings of work.
“Our pitching needs to improve,” Condon said. “We need to be more consistent with everything – our approach, mentality and execution.”
The Mustangs’ final game on Sunday would end on a positive note.
Facing a rematch against the same Stanford team they lost to earlier in the weekend, the Mustangs redeemed themselves and won 4-3.
Cal Poly did all its damage with a four-run fifth inning.
Freshman designated player Stephanie Heyward started the rally for the Mustangs with a leadoff single.
Using her speed, Heyward scored on a wild pitch.
Senior left fielder Emily Ceccacci came through in the clutch for the second straight weekend with a two-run single to push the Cal Poly lead to 3-0. Ceccacci scored on a Cardinal error, extending the lead to four.
Hyland (4-2) was once again dominant.
She limited the Cardinal to one hit through the opening 6 innings, but she ran into some trouble in the seventh when she allowed multiple baserunners.
Stanford capitalized and scored three runs in the inning to cut Cal Poly’s lead to 4-3.
Hyland remained calm and closed the door on a Stanford comeback with a strikeout and a game-ending pop out.
“We came together as a team and adjusted to the mistakes we made in the first game against them,” Hyland said. “We played with more intensity, and it definitely showed out there on the field.”
The weekend was definitely a success for the young Mustangs.
Cal Poly continues action Feb. 19-22 at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, California.
“This weekend gave our team the confidence that we can play against anybody in the country,” Condon said. “When we’re on our game doing the things we need to do, we know we can compete with anybody.”