For starting pitcher Matt Leonard, the fatigue of 141 pitches weighed in.
It was the ninth inning in the first game of the Mustangs’ three-game series against Pacific. With two away, the left-hander needed one more out to get his team past the Tigers — a team with 30 wins — and hope to play in the postseason.
After starting 13 games, Leonard was held winless all year. He was 0-7 with a 5.24 ERA heading into Friday’s game and — on paper — this didn’t look like a game in which he would be capable of changing that. The Mustangs had under 20 wins and had no hopes of playing for a championship. A team picked to finish third in the Big West at the start of the season now sat third to last.
But statistics didn’t matter. Leonard and the Mustangs held the advantage 8-4.
The batter was Tigers left fielder Josh Simms. He was one-for-three with a strikeout on the night. After three pitches, he found himself staring at a 1-2 count.
There was nothing theatrical about the way Leonard prepared for a potential final pitch. He was a strike away from tasting his first victory of the season, but he showed no emotion. He stood on the mound, glove at his side, with one thing on his mind — getting one more strike.
“I wasn’t nervous … just trying not to get too excited,” Leonard said. “I was trying to focus on pitching one pitch at a time.”
Leonard looked for the sign from the catcher. He shrugged his shoulders, started his wind-up and hurled the pitch toward the plate.
A curveball was his weapon of choice.
On pitch No. 145 of the night, Leonard struck out Simms looking. With his first display of emotion all game, he held his fist high and yelled after the final out.
“I was just excited; it’s hard to describe,” Leonard said. “It’s kind of the best way to end the ballgame.”
He had just earned his first win — and first complete game — of the season, and he had just given the Mustangs (19-30, 9-13 Big West) the first win of their series, 8-4.
His team met him at the mound to celebrate.
“They were all excited. I think they all wanted me to get my first win all year. It was a good night for all of us,” Leonard said. “It’s definitely nice to get one under my belt.”
It wasn’t just Leonard who helped the Mustangs past the Tigers. The junior finished the game with nine innings pitched — allowing four earned runs and nine hits — but received help from his teammates at the plate.
“Offense came out hot early,” Leonard said. “It’s always nice getting run support early on. It’s kind of been a struggle for us on Friday nights; we haven’t been scoring that many runs.”
Those struggles didn’t surface against Tigers starter Marcus Pointer, who came into the game with a (7-3) record and 4.18 ERA. The Mustangs rallied for eight runs and nine hits off the right-hander. Outfielder Luke Yoder was one of the main contributors. He finished the game three-of-four with four RBIs.
“You always try to stay focused and see the ball well,” Yoder said. “Fortunately tonight, that was the case.”
Yoder was one of the Mustangs who combined for a six-run outburst in the second inning. With runners at second and third, the senior took a change-up down the middle of the plate and sent it flying over the center field wall for a three-run home run.
“That’s the thing with good pitchers,” Yoder said. “You’re not going to get too many good pitches to hit — you got to hit those mistakes.”
He also hit a home run in the first, giving the Mustangs their first run of the night.
First baseman David Van Ostrand went three-for-four with two RBIs — one a solo home run in the seventh — and right fielder Bobby Crocker also finished the game with multiple hits, going two-for-five.
With the win, the Mustangs have now won nine of their last 13 games. The team’s resurgence has now fueled them to a win away from 20 victories. In a matter of weeks, the Mustangs have nearly doubled a win total that took them months to produce.
“We kind of had a rough start to our season,” Leonard said. “Things just weren’t falling for us. It’s good to end the season on a hotter note. We still have pride; we still want to win every day.”
The Mustangs will continue their conference series at home Saturday. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.