Anna Cahn said her team just wasn’t playing Cal Poly softball.
In not doing so, Cahn and the Mustangs suffered a doubleheader sweep Saturday and were knocked out of first place in the Big West Conference by visiting Cal State Northridge.
A look to the opposite dugout, which housed three former Mustangs players, had to leave some wondering whether the Matadors weren’t playing Cal Poly softball.
Associate coach Roni Sparrey — the acting head coach — and two of her three her assistants, Sarah Iwata and Joni Colburn, helped lead Cal State Northridge to its first series win in San Luis Obispo since the arrival of Cal Poly head coach Jenny Condon in 2005.
“Those three Cal Poly coaches that were players here, they’re tenacious,” Condon said. “They’re scrappy and they’re cutthroat, which was a great asset in our program. So, we know what they bring in our ballpark. That’s going to rub off on their players, and their players are hungry.”
The Matadors (26-20, 10-4 Big West) cruised to a 5-0 win in the first game and came back from separate two-run and one-run deficits to take a 5-3 victory in Game 2. The Mustangs (20-20, 9-5 Big West) had the chance to all but bury Cal State Northridge in the conference title race but instead failed to find much offense beyond pitchers Cahn and Rebecca Patton.
Patton was 3 for 4 on the day with a run scored, and Cahn reached base in seven of her eight plate appearances. Cahn hit her third home run of the season and gave Cal Poly a 3-2 lead going into the final two innings of the second game before the Matadors rallied for two runs against her in the sixth.
But in a trend that’s been problematic for Cal Poly, Cahn — who leads the team with .359 batting average, 16, RBI, nine doubles and a .554 slugging percentage — was also walked four times, including in three of her four at-bats in Game 2.
“We tried to keep her as off balance as we could,” said Sparrey, a 2004 Cal Poly grad who also spent two years as a Mustangs assistant, “but she’s a good hitter, so we’ll take a walk over a home run any day.”
Aside from Cahn and Patton, the rest of the team combined to bat .157 on the day. One of the results was stranding 22 runners combined in the two games.
And with 41 walks this season, Cahn already owns the all-time Cal Poly single-season record and ranks in the top 10 all-time in the Big West.
“Sometimes I do get good pitches in those walks and I don’t capitalize on it,” Cahn said. “It’s nice to get on base, but also, I am in that four position when I should be getting RBIs. It’s kind of frustrating for me when I just get on base when I really would like to get the RBIs and help my team out more.”
On days like Saturday, when Cahn gets little support from the rest of the lineup, it only becomes more enticing to give her a free pass.
“If your three and four hitters are leading in walks and not getting any production behind them, I’d walk them, too,” Condon said. “That’s just smart softball.
“We need people to come up with a hit, or a hit by pitch or walk in timely situations. We have just stranded too many baserunners.”
The Mustangs had a disappointing day defensively as well.
There were two fielding errors in each game, and the Matadors teed off for 20 hits combined.
Lasting the complete game in the series-opening loss, Patton took her first defeat since March 27. It was a streak that spanned 11 appearances, seven starts, and produced a 7-0 record.
She dropped to 8-5 on the season, and Cahn fell to 10-11 with the loss in the second game.
Cal State Northridge is tied with UC Davis atop the Big West standings with Cal Poly one game back of each and seven games left in the regular season.
With the conventional thought being that the conference will likely only get the one automatic berth to an NCAA regional, winning the Big West title has become paramount.
“It’s been tight all year,” Sparrey said. “We know what’s at stake and we know what we have to do. We have a lot of confidence and we got the momentum right now. So we gotta stay on board and keep using it.”