Don’t pour any dirt on the Cal Poly softball team.
With a three-game sweep completed after a 5-3 win over visiting Cal State Fullerton on Sunday, the Mustangs are now all alone atop the Big West Conference standings, owners of a six-game winning streak after a rough start to the season.
Just two weeks ago, Cal Poly (18-17, 7-2) was five games under .500, had lost nine of 10 and dropped its conference-opening series with UC Riverside.
With more than half the lineup filled with first-year starters who have been marked at times by inconsistency at the plate and in the field, some may have given the Mustangs up for dead.
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“Quite honestly, I don’t really care what anybody else thinks,” Cal Poly head coach Jenny Condon said. “I’m just concerned about the 15 kids in the dugout.
“If people are going to judge us by our stats, that fine, but we believed that our kids were going to turn it around. We’re just young. We’ve taken our lumps, and we had a tough schedule that, hopefully in the end, will be the reason why we’re so successful now.”
With four more series left in the regular season, the Mustangs have positioned themselves as the favorite to win the Big West and make a repeat appearance in an NCAA regional.
Though the overall record was better, Cal Poly’s conference record was identical at this time last season. The Mustangs dropped their first Big West series that year, too, then went on to win 14 games in a row with a senior-laden team. The level of experience might not be the same, but the championship swagger could be back.
“All the young girls, they know what it’s about now,” said senior first baseman Krysten Cary, who batted 2 for 3 with two doubles and two RBI on Sunday. “They know that conference is where it’s time to be fierce and take those wins. The losing streak “was hard at times … but for us, we were ready to get back out on the field every day, play some more games, throw whatever you got at us,” Cary added. “We really worked together to get out of that and look at where we are now. Everybody looks comfortable, confident and everybody’s having fun.”
Perhaps none are more confident than Cary. She raised her season batting average to a career-high .343 and leads the team with five home runs and 15 RBI. She’s batting .400 in Big West play and had two hits for every out she made against the Titans (9-32, 4-5 Big West), who came into the series tied for first.
Another Mustang riding high is freshman pitcher Rebecca Patton. She claimed all three victories against Cal State Fullerton, and on Sunday registered a career-high seven strikeouts in 5 1⁄3 innings.
Patton (6-4) allowed 11 hits and pitched into trouble the first couple innings, but she was able to preserve the shutout all the way through the fifth.
“Obviously, you don’t want to be put in that position, but the pressure helps to motivate me better,” said Patton, who had a 1.08 ERA in her three appearances this weekend.
“I feel really good, and I know that it’s preparing me for what’s to come later.”
Patton had a good lead to work with early.
Cal Poly got three runs in the first — one on a two-run double by Cary, the other on a double by catcher Stephanie Correia.
The Mustangs scored another in the second when sophomore Kendal Hennings, one of the first-time starters in an infield that lost three seniors last season, smacked her second-career triple to the gap in right center.
Hennings is batting just .226 this season, but is second on the team with three home runs and has 10 RBI. She has a team-high 10 errors but maintained a perfect fielding percentage against Cal State Fullerton.
Overall, Cal Poly committed just one fielding error in the series.
“We really feel comfortable playing with each other,” Hennings said. “We just know when the ball gets hit to a certain person, they’re going to get it done, and everyone does what they’re supposed to do.”