For a Cal Poly softball team that was selected as a preseason favorite to win the Big West, a 4-22 start might not look like a picture of a possible conference champion. However, lost in a poor record is the tough competition the Mustangs have faced through their nonconference schedule.
Twelve of Cal Poly’s first 22 games have come against top-25 ranked opponents. While all 12 of those matchups ended in a loss, six were decided by three runs or fewer.
The team looks to reverse the trend when the Big West season kicks off April 2 at UC Riverside in a three-game set against the Highlanders. The Mustangs make their first appearance at home April 9, to take on rival UC Santa Barbara.
Pitcher Anna Cahn emphasized the matchup with the Gauchos, as well as a late April set with Long Beach State at home, as the results that will go a long way to decide if the Mustangs can return to the postseason.
“The Big West season is going to determine if we go to the postseason or not,” Cahn said. “That’s what we’re banking on right now … So, I think that the tough (nonconference) schedule that our coaches set out for us is going to help us with our Big West competition.”
In 2010, UC Davis split the Big West crown with Cal State Northridge, while the Mustangs fell three games short with a 12-9 conference record — to take third place.
Although the Mustangs are the alleged favorites, pitcher Rebecca Patton said any team in the Big West is good enough to make a run for the title.
“Any team at this point could come out and win it,” Patton said. “We just have to wait and see who is gonna bring it on that day.”
Though, if statistics and superstitions are to be trusted, the fact it is an odd numbered year — 2011 — may bode well for Cal Poly.
Since 2005, the Mustangs have won 78 percent of their conference games in odd numbered years, earning NCAA tournament bids in 2007 and 2009, while winning just 58 percent in even numbered years and failing to make the tournament.
This season, the team has struggled to hit well, leaving the pitchers without much run support, although Patton remains optimistic about getting the offense going.
“Once we get those runs on the board, we will feel more comfortable out there on defense, and we won’t have to worry about playing catch up,” she said. “I think that will be the main ingredient in winning the Big West.”
Only two Mustangs are hitting over .300, while the team is hitting just .221 as a whole. The Mustangs have also been outscored 136-51 this season. Patton said the early season struggles can be attributed to a combination of a tough schedule and a young squad.
Only two players on the roster are seniors, while eight are freshmen and four are sophomores. While the entire starting infield is made up of freshmen, their fielding percentage (.959) is not drastically below their battle tested opponents.
“We’re really trying to have everyone stay accountable,” Cahn said. “It is hard with eight freshmen, they are coming fresh out of high school, they are 18-years old. It’s really been a learning experience. I think for the coaches and upperclassmen, we’re trying our best and we’re doing a good job at managing the 12 underclassmen.”
That being said, Cahn said the best way for the newer players to transition in the faster pace of college softball is by getting more reps and at-bats that only time can provide.
The ability to get that in-game experience was slightly hampered over spring break as the Mustangs had seven games canceled including an entire tournament in Palo Alto, Calif. and two games against No. 7 UCLA.
After six straight games were called off due to rain, Cahn said the team was beginning to feel a bit antsy and were ready to step back on the field.
On Sunday, the team was able to channel that energy into a 6-2 victory over Fairfield, but dropped a 3-0 game to UNLV later in the day.
The Mustangs’ next game is away against UC Riverside on Saturday, giving the team a chance to rest up before its Big West opener.