Tim Wise was mired in a slump that saw him lowered in the lineup and then dropped from it altogether.
If he was looking for a superstitious way to change his fortunes, the Cal Poly first baseman might have cut the shoulder-length hair he’s been growing out since the end of last season.
But the long hair isn’t a superstition. It’s a commitment.
“I told myself I was going to go the end of the season and see how it gets,” Wise said.
“I wanted to see what happens.”
Teammates “make fun of me sometimes,” Wise said. “But I just take it.”
The senior is keeping what has become his trademark locks through the end of the year no matter what. Hoping to persevere through the slump like he has the insults, Wise is dedicated to overcoming it all.
Going into Tuesday’s 12-5 victory over visiting San Jose State, the No. 2 Mustangs were ranked No. 1 by one major poll and four different computer rankings.
Despite the highest Division I ranking in program history, Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee is certain the Mustangs’ best baseball is ahead of them.
To continue to improve on a season that’s already progressed beyond all reasonable expectations, it might be up to players like Wise, who still have room to grow.
“It would be nice if he can contribute like he’s capable of,” Lee said, “because it makes us that much stronger. It makes our lineup that much more potent.”
After being left for the past five games, Wise returned to the starting lineup and had the first
four-hit game of his career, going 4 for 5 with a run and two RBI.
Wise started off the year leading off and had his batting average up to .328 after 17 games.
But over a 16-game span, he saw his average dip to .275, which landed him a seat on the bench.
If Wise can return to form, that’s one way Cal Poly (35-5) can improve on its already sparkling postseason résumé.
The Mustangs’ 11-game winning streak is the second longest in the country behind Columbia’s 13-game streak. Cal Poly, which has tallied double-digit hit totals in six of the past seven games, is also 24-2 at home and ranks ninth in the RPI according to Warren
Zack Zehner is still getting better, too.
The junior college transfer left fielder from Santa Barbara City was bumped up to fifth in the batting order for the first time this season and responded by going 3 for 4 with three runs and two RBI.
Opening the year in a platoon in left with Wise, who was also rotating with Ryan Drobny and John Schuk-necht at first, Zehner has upped his average to .333.
“He’s got a chance to be a real solid contributor in the middle of the lineup,” Lee said. “He’s a true five-hole type of hitter, meaning he’s got the ability to drive in some runs, he’s got some pop, and now he’s got enough at-bats under his belt, he understands what approach works for him at this level.
“He’s getting better with each game that he plays. You can see the confidence and body language, the quality swings that he takes.”
Though Zehner led the Vaqueros with a .328 batting average and ranked seventh in the state with 38 RBI as a sophomore, he had much to adjust to once he arrived in Cal Poly.
Lee expected Zehner to be an immediate contributor after a standout summer in the Northwoods League, but expectations only got him so far.
“It has to do a lot with trust,” Zehner said. “The coaches have to trust you when you’re out there. You really have to earn it when you’re out there. Take advantage of your opportunities.”
Now, the Mustangs can use some more pitching depth. Tuesday had to be somewhat of an encouraging sign for starter Slater Lee.
After a no-decision Saturday against Cal State Fullerton, his sixth straight, Lee was moved out of the weekend rotation in favor of fellow freshman Justin Calomeni.
Lee lasted five innings against the Spartans (12-29), allowing one run on five hits while striking out one and earning his first victory since shutting out UCLA in his second start of the season back in February.
A bullpen Lee called rusty after the team took a couple days off to rest allowed the other four San Jose State runs, but the closest the Spartans got was within 6-3 in the top of the sixth inning.
Cal Poly put the game away with a four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh that made it 11-4.
Slater Lee improved to 3-1, and like Wise and Zehner, he could be a key if the Mustangs are to make a deep postseason run.
“We understand we have a long way to go and we feel that we can continue to get better as a team,” Larry Lee said. “And we need to get better as a team if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”