Mason Radeke (above) has been removed from the starting rotation due to a sore elbow injury. last took the mound against Houston on March 14, where he pitched six innings, gave up six hits and allowed three earned runs. Photo by Ryan Sidarto- Mustang Daily

Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee compared the game of baseball to a snowball rolling down a hill; in order to be successful on the diamond, you need momentum.

“In baseball, the whole game is kind of contagious,” Lee said at Monday’s press conference. “If your pitching is dominant, it just leads over your offense. On offense, if your main guys are swinging the bat, everybody else seems to fall into place.”

Whether it be a hit streak, win streak, dominant win, series win — whatever — every team needs a push to carry momentum through the season. The Mustangs (8-19, 1-2 Big West) haven’t had their’s yet.

After one of the most dominant seasons in Cal Poly baseball history, the Mustangs came into conference play with a 7-16 record — 10 wins shy of the mark they had posted just a year before. On top of that, they have yet to post a winning record.

“We just haven’t, for whatever reason, been able to make things happen,” Lee said.

But, there is still a chance to turn all of it around. Despite a six-game losing streak and offensive and defensive struggles, the Mustangs still have a chance to start over in conference play.

But Cal Poly’s conference-opening series against UC Riverside doesn’t bode well. Last weekend, the Mustangs dropped two of three games to the Highlanders.

“We haven’t had enough to quite get over the hump,” Lee said. “There have been some pluses, but not enough to really think that we are going to take out game to the next level.”

They just need a push.

“If you look at a lot of our games, we don’t do well in certain situations. A lot of times, we play just well enough to lose,” Lee said. “It says a lot about what you have on your team.”

The Mustangs did lose few players heading into this season, including their two hitting leaders from 2009. Ryan Lee graduated from the program after leading the team with 87 hits. Adam Buschini, who also left the team, after he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fourth round of last year’s MLB draft, hit .422 and fell right behind Lee with 78 hits.

Although the Mustangs returned five other batters to their 2010 roster who hit above .300 in 2009, Lee said the loss of two huge bats in the lineup hurt the team a lot more than just in terms of hits. It takes rhythm away from other batters.

“Some players — if they are surrounded by good players — they have real solid seasons,” Lee said. “But now when those players are gone, and they have to be the guys; it (becomes) a growing process. They don’t get it right away.”

Heading into this season, Lee knew where the weak spots in his lineup were. He said this offense could have been better than the Mustang’s offense a year ago, but this season, the hitters expected to pick up the majority of the offense just haven’t found their groove at the plate.

“We kind of knew we were going to be soft at eight and nine in our lineup,” Lee said. “But we thought we would be a lot better in one through seven, and we just haven’t. Guys just haven’t been able to step up for whatever reason. That’s the frustrating part of it.”

Struggles this season don’t just reflect Cal Poly’s performance at the plate; the Mustangs have also struggled to rally the arms on the mound.

“We just don’t have enough pitching quality or depth to get us through three games on a weekend series. (Matt) Leonard and (DJ) Mauldin have supplied some good starts for us; Jeff Johnson has been throwing well out of the bullpen,” Lee said.

Sophomore Mason Radeke was one of the few pitchers on staff with momentum, but a sore elbow has sidelined Radeke and may put him in the dugout for about three weeks. In his last start, Radeke (3-1) threw 6 innings, allowed three earned runs, six hits and recorded his first loss of the season.

“(In) pitching, we kind of knew that we were a little light on that end. Then losing Radeke really, really hits us hard,” Lee said.

Struggles or not, the Mustangs are running out of time to get back on their feet. This weekend, Cal Poly will return to Baggett Stadium for a three-game conference series against Central Coast rival UC Santa Barbara.

“They’re a quality ball club; they have enough returners from an offensive standpoint to be good,” Lee said. “Pitching-wise, they have quite a few guys back with one of the better pitchers — probably on the West Coast — with (Mario) Hollands.”

The Gauchos (12-11) returned four position starters and six pitchers from a team that went 29-22 (11-13 Big West) a year ago. They swept a four-game series against Northern Illinois and were 9-5 before coughing up seven of their last 10 games.

Designated hitter Beck Wheeler leads the Gauchos with a .362 average, with just two other players hitting above .300: shortstop Matt Valaika is hitting .312 and first baseman Trevor Whyte stands at .301.

On the mound, Santa Barbara’s pitching staff consists of starters Hollands (2-2, 3.00 ERA), Nick Capito (4-2, 2.89 ERA) and righty Jesse Meaux (4-1, 4.69 ERA). The Gauchos are hitting .290 as a team while the UCSB pitching staff has a 4.59 ERA.

But regardless of the competition, each weekend presents a new challenge, Lee said.

“It is disappointing, discouraging, frustrating, but we are just going to keep trying to get better,” he said.

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