After a 10-0 five-inning run-rule loss to UC Davis wrapped up the home season on Sunday, Cal Poly head softball coach Jenny Condon finally acknowledged an idea that had been circling since the preseason.
Her program is in a rebuilding phase.
Even though the Mustangs contended for their second straight Big West Conference title almost to the end this year, the state of the team became wincingly apparent as the team dropped five of the past six games with the their postseason hopes on the line.
“As much as I never said it all year and everybody talked about how this was a rebuilding year, I guess it was,” Condon said. “When we look back right now, it really was. Today I say it: This is a rebuilding year. I have to choke that down, but that’s OK because our kids never quit and they still aren’t.”
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After losing five senior starters from last season’s team, Cal Poly was forced to remake most of its infield and outfield. The Mustangs had as many as six first-year starters in the lineup most days this season.
The difference in experience level showed in the team’s hitting, fielding and surprisingly a spot where it maybe shouldn’t have: Pitching. Cal Poly returned both pitchers from a year ago yet has an ERA more than a run higher than last year.
“For me, it was hard having five seniors leaving and having a new infield and having fresh girls,” said junior Anna Cahn, who was the conference pitcher of the year in 2009, “but we tried our best, and sometimes we didn’t play to our ability and we didn’t really do a good job mentally of preparing for some situations.”
Cahn goes into the final series of the season at Pacific next weekend with an 11-13 record and a 2.27 ERA, but she slumped in Big West play, going just 3-6 with a 3.91 ERA.
Also the team’s designated player, Cahn batted .370 with a team-high 18 RBI and 10 doubles. She also set Cal Poly’s single season record with 41 walks and is second in career walks, a record she will most likely smash next season if she doesn’t eclipse it in the final three games.
“Last year, I was a sophomore, so I would always look up to the older girls and would kind of look to them for advice and what to do,” Cahn said. “And I feel like I didn’t do a good job of doing that this year because I’m an upperclassman now.”
There wasn’t much to say about the final loss to the Aggies, who are just one win away from clinching their first Big West title and Division I NCAA regional berth.
Cal Poly mustered only two hits against UC Davis pitcher Alex Holmes, was mathematically eliminated from title contention and was assured of its first losing record at home under Condon.
The Mustangs hit just .200 as a team in the three-game series, which ended up being the first three-game sweep of the home team at Bob Janssen Field since Condon’s first season at Cal Poly in 2005. It was also the first Big West series sweep of Cal Poly since 2008.
The Mustangs had gone 19 home series without being swept and 17 overall. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that Cal Poly could have grabbed the conference lead had the sweep gone the opposite way.
“We just didn’t perform,” Condon said. “We got beat, and unfortunately, we got embarrassed today. So, we have to get back to it this week. We’ve got three games left in the season and for that, we just really have to focus on getting better every time we go out and focus on getting better for next year.”
Sunday was the final home appearance for three seniors — first baseman Krysten Cary, relief pitcher Helen Pena and reserve catcher and pinch-hitter Sara Kryza.
But beyond those three, the Mustangs return 10 players from this season’s team, each of whom started at least two games.
Cal Poly also has a big recruiting class coming in. Condon signed eight incoming freshmen for next season.
“Hopefully, a big impact,” Condon said. “And whether they’re actually starters or pushing the returning players, either way, we’re excited. We actually really are excited about who’s coming into the program.
“The cream rises to the top. They’re going to have to earn their spots in the fall.”