In the first month of the past five seasons, the Cal Poly softball team has won eight, seven, four, three and two games. Historically, February hasn’t been the best month for the Mustangs — they’ve won just 32 percent of their February games from 2011 to 2015.
This February, things changed.
In 2016, the Cal Poly softball team has opened the season on a tear, winning 11 of 15 games to start the season, including a current six-game winning streak. During the streak, the team has outscored its opponents 21-7 and posted a pair of shutouts against Arizona and Cal State Bakersfield.
What could be the catalyst for such a different start to the season?
Easy — junior pitcher Sierra Hyland.
So far, the stats for Hyland this season are enough to merit consideration for Big West Conference Player of the Year. She’s second in ERA (1.72), second in wins (7), seventh in batting average (.400) and tied for eighth in RBI (12), but absolutely blows away the rest of the conference in strikeouts. Her mark of 104 is first among NCAA Division I pitchers and is more than twice as many as Long Beach State’s Cielo Meza, who stands second in conference with 49 strikeouts on the season.
Hyland was named the USA Softball Collegiate National Player of the Week on Tuesday, becoming the first Cal Poly player ever to earn that honor. She’s also earned two straight Big West Conference Pitcher of the Week honors — bumping her up to nine such awards over her career.
Looking at the scores for the Mustangs’ wins, it’s easy to see how the team plays. The squad wins through stout pitching and defense with enough hitting to win low-scoring games. With a pitcher like Hyland having a career season, that’s a formula that can be depended on during the season.
This weekend the team hosts Weber State, Toledo and Saint Peter’s in the ShareSLO Mustang Classic. These games mark the first home games of the season and give the Mustangs a chance to continue their winning streak as well as their best start in years.
At 11-4 overall and no conference games yet, the team stands atop the Big West Conference. Teams to look out for this season include UC Riverside and Hawaii, two schools that have been at or near the top for many seasons, as well as the defending Big West regular season champions, CSUN. Conference games don’t start until April, so that gives Cal Poly the month of March to build on a strong start of the season and gain momentum as the season progresses to conference play.
And if Hyland, as well as sophomore pitchers Lindsey Chalmers and Stephanie Heyward, keep up the good work in the circle, the Mustangs will be in contention for the top spot in the Big West.