Going into her final home series for the Cal Poly softball team — one with weighty Big West Conference title implications — senior first baseman Krysten Cary is not allowing herself to change her approach along with the upped ante.
One reason is the Mustangs’ mental philosophy. Cal Poly coach Jenny Condon doesn’t just preach a one-game-at-a-time mentality. Taking as much thinking away from the equation as possible, Condon more accurately breaks up the baby steps into even smaller increments.
The other reason the Mustangs (21-20, 10-5 Big West) won’t feel much different in this weekend’s thee-game series with first-place UC Davis (22-25, 11-4 Big West) is that it shouldn’t inspire any new emotions.
Even though Cal Poly likely needs to sweep all three games to assure itself of the conference title and likely the Big West’s lone bid to an NCAA regional, the Mustangs have been playing with first place on the line each of the past four weekends.
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They outdueled Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. They salvaged a game from Cal State Northridge when a loss could have all but knocked them out of the running.
That said, Cary isn’t feeling the heat heading into a series that could put a definitive expiration date on her college career.
“Honestly, I’m not approaching it any different than any other series,” Cary said. “A lot of people have asked how I approached last weekend because it was a similar situation to right now, but honestly, I can’t approach it any differently than any other game we’ve played all season.”
Cal Poly is inspired to make the postseason for the second straight season to help send their three seniors — Cary, reserve catcher Sara Kryza and pitcher Helen Peña — out on a positive note.
But the Mustangs’ fate will more likely be determined by a collection of first- and second-year players who’ve found themselves in the starting lineup early in their college careers.
Three of the four infielders and two outfielders are in their first year starting. For the first time under Condon, every player on the roster has made at least two starts as she searched for contributors to step up.
Early in the season, the chemistry experiments coincided with a subpar win-loss record, but with the start of conference play, things seemed to turn around quickly.
“Our kids have really shown up when conference time has come around,” said Condon, who hasn’t had a team finish worse than third in her five previous seasons at Cal Poly, “and I think that has a lot to do with the hard preconference schedule that we try to set up. This year, it beat us up a little bit, but I think in the long run, it’s like callousing your hands. It’s tough in the beginning, but once they’re calloused, you’re good to go.”
Said Cary: “Those freshmen players, those younger girls who’ve gotten those starting positions have really come into their own. They’ve gained a crucial aspect of the game, which is confidence. You can clearly see it on their faces, in their play, and I think that is going to be huge for them in these upcoming seasons.”
Freshman pitcher Rebecca Patton also has turned it on in conference play. Seven of her eight wins have come after the start of Big West play, and she’s teamed with junior pitcher Anna Cahn to help give Cal Poly a conference leading 2.77 ERA.
Freshman outfielder Dana Perez has been leading the Mustangs’ position players in hitting during Big West play. Although only batting .279 on the season, she’s hitting .341 in 15 conference games.