Chris Gateley / Mustang News

A force of nature is tearing up Bob Janssen Field.

Adjacent to baseball’s Baggett Stadium, the softball team has quietly destroyed its competition in the pre-conference part of their schedule. The Mustangs have won 22 of their last 26 games as of April 9 and, with a 28-10 record, have already equaled their win total from last season. They’re poised to have their best year since 2009 when the team went 41-12 on its way to a berth in the
NCAA tournament.

Sierra Hyland

The catalyst for dominance this year stands at 5-foot-5 with a cannon of a right arm: senior pitcher Sierra Hyland.

The senior started her final season as a Mustang with a flourish at the Kajikawa Classic. She threw a no-hitter in the first game of the season against Purdue and followed it the next day with a perfect game and a three-run homer against Creighton.

By mid-season, she secured the Big West all-time career strikeout record with a 13-strikeout game in a 3-0 win against CSU Bakersfield.

“[The record] was nowhere near in my mind. It was just something that came along,” she said before the series at Cal State Fullerton. “I mean, it’s an honor to have that, but it just shows that the work’s paying off.”

After her junior season was cut short due to a finger injury, she has come back to be one of the best pitchers in the country.

Hyland is the best pitcher in the Big West by far, with a conference-best 193 strikeouts and a 0.88 earned run average (ERA), or average number of runs allowed by the pitcher per game that aren’t errors. The gap in strikeouts from her to second place Brittany Hitchcock of Hawaii — with 122 strikeouts — is bigger than the gap from Hitchcock to 10th place.

Bump up the competition to a national level and she still shines. Hyland is sixth in the country in strikeouts and 13th in the country in ERA. She’s no slouch at the plate either, batting .330 with a team-high 26 RBI.

Lindsey Chalmers

But the team’s dominance hasn’t been a one-woman show. Junior right-hander Lindsey Chalmers has stepped up to be a strong counterpart to Hyland.

Chalmers finished last season as an All-Big West honorable mention and now sits fourth in conference with 91 strikeouts and third with a 1.46 ERA. During the middle of the non-conference schedule, she went 35 innings with one earned run allowed.

Chalmers’ improved play had its roots in the offseason.

“I really broke down my mechanics and restructured my motion,” she said. “I think that really helped coming into this season.”

Two pitchers are better than one

The pitchers form a dynamic duo, as they can rely on each other to maintain a dominating presence from the circle.

“It’s great knowing that she has my back and I have her back,” Hyland said. “Whenever one of us comes in we can shut it down for the other, especially knowing that she’s healthy and we can put her in whenever we need to.”

“It was good for me to have Sierra a year above me coming in,” Chalmers said. “She’s challenged me to be better as a pitcher and a player and that’s been
really helpful.”

The Mustangs sit sixth in the country in ERA as a team and far ahead of the rest of the Big West teams. As a bullpen, Cal Poly’s allowed 66 runs through 36 games. Next best is Hawaii at 97. Every other team in conference has allowed more than 120. The Mustangs’ 1.18 team ERA is almost half that of Hawaii in second at 2.32. Hawaii, Cal State Fullerton and CSUN are the only other teams with ERAs under 3.0.

And with four players batting above 0.300 — Crimson Kaiser (0.361), Chelsea Convissar (0.340), Stephanie Heyward (0.318) and Hyland (0.330) — the Mustangs have enough firepower on offense to win low-scoring games. The team may only score, on average, around four runs per game but the bullpen keeps opponents at less than two runs allowed per game.

With outstanding work by the bullpen and a good group of hitters, the Mustangs are a serious contender not only for the conference title, but also for an NCAA tournament bid.

“[The NCAA tournament] is our long-term goal,” Hyland said. “Right now it’s taking each series one step at a time. I definitely think we’ll be in there, and right now our record shows we’re putting in the work.”

The conference schedule runs through the middle of May. The Mustangs have one Big West series in the books and another six left before the end of the season, making it far too early to call the Mustangs conference favorites.

But with a pair of standout pitchers like Hyland and Chalmers, the Mustangs have as strong a chance as any team.

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