In two consecutive innings, pitcher Rebecca Patton stared down a Cal State Fullerton batter with the bases loaded. Both times, the poised right-hander struck them out swinging on an off-speed pitch low and away.
“The defense feels comfortable around her because we could be up by 10 or down by 10, her demeanor is the same,” softball head coach Jenny Condon said. “She doesn’t get frazzled and she has really matured.”
Condon wasn’t surprised by Patton’s clutch pitching that led Cal Poly (18-17, 7-2 Big West) to a 5-3 win over the Titans Sunday. Staying focused is the key to her success, Condon said.
“She keeps the game simple. She throws pitch to pitch and stays in the present, for a lot of pitchers that’s hard to do,” she said.
Patton pitched 13 innings in Cal Poly’s three-game sweep over Fullerton, allowing two earned runs on 16 hits. She accumulated three wins in the series (6-4), the latter coming with just more than five innings of work in which she gave up two runs while notching a career-high seven strikeouts.
The freshman admitted she had difficulty adjusting to collegiate competition that she previously held in awe. But after shaking the early-season jitters, has recently found her rhythm.
“In the beginning I was throwing timid … I was wondering if I could compete with them,” Patton said. “Now that I’m feeling more comfortable and I can compete with them, I’m throwing my game … (I trust) the pitches will do what they are supposed to do.”
Condon attributed the pitcher’s struggles to pitch location.
“She struggled early in the season and refocused on throwing her pitches and hitting her spots,” she said. “Her pitches weren’t moving enough and when she was missing, she was missing over the plate.”
Cal Poly jumped out to a quick lead. Sophomores Nora Sobczak and Kendal Hennings opened the game with consecutive base hits and Krysten Cary cashed them in with a two-run double. Stephanie Correia extended the lead to 3-0 by launching a double herself.
“In the at bat I actually hit an outside pitch but I was just looking for whatever she had to give me,” said Cary, who leads the team in batting average (.343), slugging percentage (.571) and home runs (5). “It was low and out and I took it back up the middle — it felt good.”
Cal State Fullerton threatened in the second and third, but stranded six runners on base. Cal Poly practices those game scenarios thoroughly in practice to minimize mistakes.
“We have to throw all of those situations out in practice so we get all the butterflies out and so we are ready for them in a game,” Cary said.”
The Mustangs added a run during the second as sophomore third baseman Kendal Hennings launched a triple. Cal Poly then moved ahead 5-0 in the fifth as freshman second baseman Shea Williams singled to left.
“Shea (who is hitting .333 in conference) has done a great job,” Condon said. “(Prior to conference play) she actually was just playing defense; since conference, she has stepped up, committed to her swing and been disciplined at the plate. She has been a pleasant surprise.”
Cal State Fullerton singled up the middle in the sixth which scored two to spoil Patton’s shutout. The hit drove Patton from the mound, but senior Helen Peña finished the game and earned her second collegiate save.
Patton was not nervous at all when the tying run came up to the plate for Fullerton in the top of the seventh.
“I knew Helen could do it,” she said.
The Mustangs move into first place in conference with a one-game lead over Cal State Northridge after they lost to UC Santa Barbara Sunday. The Mustangs extended their winning streak to six games.
“We’re firing on all cylinders at this point … We’re not at our peak yet and that’s nice to see,” Condon said.
In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Patton reinforced her role as a clutch performer. Her run-scoring single during the bottom of the seventh inning catapulted the Mustangs to a 7-6 win. Yet, the win didn’t come without controversy.
Cal State Fullerton catcher Morgan Lemond seemingly tagged out Cary with her glove before reaching the plate, which would have sent the game to extra innings. But after the umpire crew convened, it confirmed Lemond tagged Cary with her glove while the ball remained in her right hand.
The second game of the double header was a convincing 3-0, led by Patton’s complete game shutout, giving up four walks and striking out five.
Cal Poly will face off against Long Beach State this weekend.