For the second straight season, the Cal Poly softball team had a rude introduction to Big West Conference play.
The question at this point is how the next stretch will compare to last season’s run of 14 straight victories en route to a conference title after the team dropped its first two to Cal State Fullerton.
Friday’s initial response to a 10-0 loss to UC Riverside at Bob Janssen Field was positive. The Mustangs split the doubleheader with a 3-2 win. Today’s finale should reveal a little more.
“There’s always concern when you lose 10-0,” Cal Poly head coach Jenny Condon said. “You have to evaluate who’s not getting it done and who is getting it done and move on from there.
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“This game is all about momentum. You saw that, and definitely Riverside had that in the first game.”
In that first game, Anna Cahn (8-8, 1.74 ERA) had one of her worst starts of the year. The Mustangs (12-16, 1-1 Big West) were blanked with only two hits. And with 16 hits, the Highlanders tied a Cal Poly Division I record for most hits by an opposing team.
Cahn, the reigning Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year, rebounded to go 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI at the plate in the second game, and Rebecca Patton held UC Riverside to just two runs on three hits while striking out four to get her first victory in almost a month.
Despite the way Cahn finished the day, however, talk after the doubleheader surrounded a start in which she gave up five runs, all earned, on sevens hits and could not get past the third inning.
“It was a rough start to conference,” the junior said. “I’m working on something for my spots … and I just didn’t do my job.”Five Highlanders registered multiple hits, including Taylor Thomas and Brittany Keeney, who each had two RBI.
Cahn said she was overthrowing. Her pitches did not have their normal movement because of the increased velocity, and it was a similar problem that dogged her at the start of conference play last season.
The winning streak of a year ago might be encouraging, but there is one big difference between the two squads: Experience.
The 2009 team that made it all the way to an NCAA regional final was filled with veterans. This year’s team has five or six first-year starters depending on the day and is still searching for consistency.
“Last year, when we lost out first two games, we had a talk and we were just like ‘OK, lets go. It can’t get any worse than this,’ ” Cahn said. “I think this year, we just can’t dwell on losses. If we lose a game, we have to come back the next game even stronger.”
Patton was encouraged by her response. It was the true freshman’s first victory since March 5 and third complete game of the season, lowering her ERA to 4.30.
“So far, I think we’ve improved a lot,” Patton said. “We’re really young and we’re really inexperienced, but I feel like we’re getting a lot better and developing better.”
Patton’s effort could have been wasted after UC Riverside put together a two-run rally to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning.
Cal Poly re-took the lead in the next half inning with timely RBI from Cahn and No. 2 hitter Nora Sobczak.
One of the problems for Cal Poly has been getting those hits this season.
Cahn leads the team with a .357 batting average and 13 RBI. Senior first baseman Krysten Cary has a .317 average and a team-high four home runs. Sobczak (.307) is the team’s hits leader (27).
But other than those top three, only freshman Dana Perez (.236) is hitting better than .216.
Condon is still tinkering with the batting order, but even more troubling might be the team’s pitching and defense to this point.
Cahn and Helen Peña combined with Jenna Maiden for a 1.71 team ERA in 2009. This season with Cahn, Peña (4.57 ERA) and Patton, that figure has ballooned to 3.17, and the fielding percentage has dropped from .969 to .955.
“Quite honestly that’s been our one issue all year — we haven’t had consistency in the circle,” Condon said, “but Anna’s proven that she’s been our go-to and she really struggled today and so the other two had to step it up and get it done.”