With the win, the Mustangs (20-31, 10-14 Big West) reached their goal of obtaining 20 wins after struggling mightily to begin the season. Before a weekend series against Long Beach State, the Mustangs set a goal of going at least 10-9 in their last 19 games to finish the season with 20 wins. The victory also marked the second consecutive Big West series win; the Mustangs have won three of their last four series.
Senior Luke Yoder said it meant a lot for the team to reach the 20-win mark after starting the season off so poorly.
“Early on in the season, it looked like we wouldn’t even come close to winning 20 games,” Yoder said. “It just shows you what hard work and dedication can do.”
Yoder said it would be good for the team to win out the rest of their games and finish the season with a 24-31 record.
“It would be awesome to win out and that wouldn’t be a bad season especially after the way we’ve ended it,” Yoder said.
The series win improved the Mustangs record in the month of May to 10-4. Also, the Mustangs have compiled back-to-back weeks with a 3-1 record. Head coach Larry Lee said he has seen a completely different atmosphere and mindset from his team the past five weeks.
“It’s better if we would’ve figured things out a little bit earlier but what we are doing is just preparing for the future by getting some young guys some experience,” Lee said.
Cal Poly was paced by a balanced attack offensively as five starters collected multiple hits on the afternoon, led by freshman designated hitter Mitch Haniger. Haniger went 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Center fielder Adam Melker and shortstop J.J. Thompson each had three hits, while catcher Jordan Hadlock and right fielder Bobby Crocker contributed two hits. The Mustangs have collected double-digit hits in 11 of their last 13 games.
Lee said he has been impressed and pleased with his offensive attack lately.
“The majority of our guys are in their comfort zone and able to take fundamentally-sound swings,” Lee said. “We probably had six of nine players in our lineup on today.”
Cal Poly also benefited from the long ball as the Mustangs hit three homers on the afternoon. All the home runs were to left field where there was a strong wind blowing out.
The Mustangs jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back. Yoder led off the inning with a bloop double down the right-field line. With the double, Yoder became the Cal Poly all-time leader in doubles with 49. He passed John Macalutas, who played at Cal Poly from 1993 to 1996. After advancing to third on a flyout by Melker, Yoder came home on the successful squeeze bunt by Crocker. Crocker was safe at first with an infield single on the play.
Yoder said he was joking around with some of his teammates about breaking the record and said it was nice to get the record in his first at-bat.
“It’s a great honor to be able to have that record and it’s been around for quite some time,” Yoder said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget and we got four more games left so hopefully I can tack on and add to that lead.”
Yoder was given the ball as soon he was safe at second.
“I just know that I wanted that ball because it’s something that doesn’t happen very often and now I have it as a keepsake to remember the time here at Cal Poly,” Yoder said.
Cal Poly starter Eugene Wright struggled early with his control, especially in the third inning. After getting the first two batters to ground out to shortstop, Wright hit the next batter and walked the next two to load the bases with two outs. Wright was able to get Pacific’s leading hitter J.B. Brown to ground out to first to get out of the jam.
Cal Poly struck for four more runs in the bottom of the third thanks to one swing from Haniger. With one out, Melker and Crocker each singled to put runners on first and second. Then, first baseman David Van Ostrand was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Haniger, who was hitting .500 on the season with the bases loaded, belted a grand slam to left-center field for his sixth home run on the year. The home run gave Cal Poly a 5-0 lead.
Haniger said it felt good to break the game open especially after battling some back issues throughout the season.
“It was real good and I’ve been waiting for one of those for a while now,” Haniger said. “It was a 3-1 count and I was looking for something up that I could drive. He just threw me a fastball middle-in and I just put a good swing on it and the rest is history.”
The Mustangs added another run in the bottom of the fourth on a double to right-center by Melker, who drove in Yoder from first base following his one-out walk.
Pacific got on the board with two runs in the top of the sixth inning. The Tigers got the first three runners on in the inning to load the bases with no outs following a walk and two singles. Designated hitter John Haberman grounded out to first to score the first run for the Tigers. The next batter was shortstop Ben Gorang who hit a sacrifice fly t0 center to score the second run and make the score 6-2.
Cal Poly answered with three runs in the bottom of the seventh. After a strike out to begin the frame, Haniger singled to left. The next batter was Jordan Hadlock who hit a two-run home run to left field for his second home run of the year. The Mustangs kept up the pressure with a single by Thompson and he was driven home by third baseman Evan Busby who doubled to to right field to make the score 9-2.
The Mustangs continued to tack on runs in the bottom of the eighth via the long ball. Van Ostrand hit a two-run shot to left-center field to give the Mustangs a 11-2 lead. It was the second home run of the series for Van Ostrand and his third on the season.
The Tigers added a final run in the top of the ninth inning on a RBI single by center fielder Brett Christopher for the final margin of victory.
Wright gave the Mustangs a quality start by throwing seven innings allowing only two runs on six hits while striking out one. Reliever Jeff Johnson came on to pitch the final two innings for the Mustangs.
Haniger said Wright was impressive all-game because he never allowed Pacific back into the game.
“Eugene threw the ball really well and the biggest thing was he never gave them any momentum,” Haniger said. “We just kept stepping on their throats.”
With only four games remaining in the season, the Mustangs will look to continue their winning ways. Haniger said it would be nice to win the remaining games after the early season struggles and would be good to build some momentum for next season.
“I just hope we win out,” Haniger said. “We’ve been playing really well and I think we deserve it and a lot of guys have been working really hard.”
For seniors such as Yoder, the last four home games represent the last games in their Cal Poly careers.
“There’s been guys that have been here with me for four years going through the grind so just enjoying the time and making sure to have some fun with each other, ” Yoder said. “We want to end the year on a really good note.”