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The Cal Poly softball team (33-19 overall, 14-7 Big West) completed its season this past week by winning 11 of its last 13 games and finished in second place in the Big West Conference — the highest since finishing first in 2009.
Seven Mustangs received a spot on the 2014 All-Big West team, none bigger than Big West Pitcher of the Year, Sierra Hyland. The freshman was also selected to the NCFA All-West Region Team — the first Cal Poly player in four years to earn that accolade — after allowing just one earned run in her last 56 1/3 innings of the season.
In Cal Poly single-season history, Hyland ranks first in strikeouts (263), shutouts (13) and innings pitched (264.1). She recorded the most victories (26) of any freshman in the nation and finished in the top-10 in the NFCA Division I National Freshman of the Year voting. On top of that, she earned Big West Pitcher of the Year and Freshman Pitcher of the Year, as well.
“She had a very successful season for us,” head coach Jenny Condon said. “Every time Sierra stepped on the mound, she gave us a chance to win. She’s a gifted athlete.”
However, one of the most dominant pitching seasons in Cal Poly softball history was not confined to the circle. The right-hander proved she could swing the bat, too.
Hyland produced a team-leading .366 batting average, while also leading the club with six home runs and 36 RBIs. That production in the batter’s box put her at No. 7 among Big West batting averages this season and ranked sixth in Cal Poly history.
But the right-hander was not the only source of offense, as the Mustangs were filled from top to bottom with talented batters.
“One of the best things about our offense is that we’re balanced one through nine,” Condon said. “If we’re not getting production at the top of the lineup, we get it from the bottom.”
At the top of the order stood senior shortstop Kim Westlund, who batted .292 on the year and started in all 52 games. She was named to the 2014 All Big-West team and ranks fifth all time with 183 hits in her Cal Poly career.
However, Westlund’s offensive prowess is of little utility if the players behind her in the batting order don’t drive her home. Junior leftfielder Emily Ceccacci took care of that job as she trailed only Hyland with a .356 average and had 21 RBIs, which was good enough for third on the team.
Ceccacci started every one of Cal Poly’s 52 games this season and boasted a .975 fielding percentage to earn a spot on the All-Big West team.
“Emily was great this year,” Condon said. “She was very reliable and the future looks strong with her coming back for her senior year.”
Four other Mustangs — senior third baseman Jillian Andersen, junior left-handed pitcher Chloe Wurst, freshman Courtney Tyler and senior catcher Mariah Cochiolo — were named to the All-Big West team as well.
Andersen, placed third on the team in batting average (.318), while Cochiolo followed up with a .310 average.
Versatile freshman Courtney Tyler played a variety of positions and proved to be one of the Mustangs’ most productive bats. Tyler batted .292 on the year with 20 runs scored and 15 runs batted in.
Wurst was also a member of the All-Big West pitching staff and ended the year with a 1.36 ERA during her last eight conference games. She completed the year with a 3.78 ERA overall.
However, the seven honorees were not enough to earn the Mustangs the Big West title. Cal Poly finished the season one game behind Long Beach State in the conference standings, and one win away from a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs lost one game against last-place UC Riverside in the final series of the year, effectively eliminating them from the title hunt.
“It was disappointing because we had so many seniors,” Hyland said. “We wanted to get them a ring, but didn’t.”
Condon echoed the thoughts of her ace while reflecting on the season.
“The team worked so hard all season long and to come up short was disappointing,” Condon said. “To come that close, it reiterates the fact that every game matters.”
The disappointing outcome to the season is in the past and the team is looking to the future. They will use that disappointment as motivation, Hyland said.
“We all know how it feels, and we don’t want it to happen again,” she said. “So we’re going to work twice as hard to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Nonetheless, the Mustangs made an impressive run at first-place Long Beach State, winning 11 of the their last 13 contests.
“Everything was going right,” Condon said. “We competed every time we stepped on the field. We believed we were going to win.”