Coming off its most successful season at the Division I level, the Cal Poly softball team was picked to repeat as Big West Conference champions in the preseason coaches’ poll released Tuesday, winning by a slim margin over Long Beach State.
The Mustangs return their top two pitchers, including multipurpose threat Anna Cahn, but lost three of their four starting infielders from last season — perhaps the reason the vote was so close.
With four first-place votes, Cal Poly received 56 points in the poll. The 49ers had one first-place vote and 51 points. Cal State Fullerton got the two other first-place votes and totaled 50 points, and UC Santa Barbara was next with 43 points.
The Mustangs won their second Big West title in three years in 2009, setting Division I program records for overall (41) and conference victories (18) and winning their first game at an NCAA regional.
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Cahn, the 2009 conference pitcher of the year, was 28-7 with a 1.80 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 2522⁄3 innings in her sophomore season in the circle, while batting .338 with six homers, 41 RBI, 30 walks and 53 hits.
Mustangs head coach Jenny Condon, last season’s Big West Coach of the Year, also returns senior first baseman Krysten Cary, who hit 14 home runs a year ago, senior pitcher Helen Peña (12-5, 1.45 ERA) and junior catcher Stephanie Correia (.260, 16 RBI).
Cal Poly lost seniors at shortstop, third base and second base — including four-year starter and the program’s leading career home run hitter in Melissa Pura and leadoff batter Kristen Lee.
Long Beach State also made an NCAA regional last season and returns five position players and three pitchers, including 2008 conference pitcher of the year Brooke Turner.
Cal State Northridge grabbed the final first place vote and finished with 28 points good enough for fifth. UC Davis (25 points), Pacific (19) and UC Riverside (16) rounded out the poll.
College of the Sequoias 3, Cuesta 2; COS 8, Cuesta, 6 innings
The Cougars (0-4) jumped on the Giants early with a two-run home run by shortstop Alyssa Giordanengo in the first inning of the first game but couldn’t hold on as COS (2-0) rallied for two runs in the third and one more in the fifth.
Even though Cuesta was run-ruled in the sixth inning of the second game, first-year head coach Mike Steuerwald was encouraged by the improvement the team showed since its season-opening doubleheader against Reedley on Saturday, when the Cougars gave up an average of 10.5 runs per game.
“We had 16 walks in the two games,” Steuerwald said, referring to the opener with Reedley. “We still had too many walks today, but we fielded the ball a lot cleaner. We threw more strikes. And from where we were Saturday, especially on the defensive side of things, we made huge strides.”
Giordanengo batted 2 for 3 with 2 RBI in the first game, but Cuesta went the next 12 innings without scoring and amassed just five hits. Rachel Thompson pitched both games for Cuesta, giving up 11 runs on 17 hits in 13 innings.
“We had a couple more chances to push runs across in the first game,” Steuerwald said, “but just couldn’t come up with that clutch hit to push it to three or four.”
Cal Poly at Anteater Invitational
The Mustangs finished eighth, shooting a four-person final-round total of 298, concluding with a 54-hole total of 883 at the par-71 Mesa Verde Country Club in Seal Beach.
Cal Poly’s Trevor Guthrie, Daniel Miller and Pace Johnson all carded 73 in the final round. Guthrie finished tied for 14th individually with a 3-over 216. Miller tied for 25th at 219, as did Arroyo Grande High grad Bryan Pierce. Johnson finished 40th at 222.
Host UC Irvine won the team title in a playoff after tying with Santa Clara, finishing with a 280 final-day score. The Anteaters’ John Chin was the individual medalist with a final-round 71 and a 202 total.