Mitch Haniger was an on 0-for-7 streak. Eugene Wright was winless in his past four.
Both Cal Poly baseball players broke out in a major way Sunday, while teammate Luke Yoder claimed another career offensive record and the Mustangs continued their late-season revival with an 11-3 win over visiting Pacific at Baggett Stadium.
Hitless in the first two games of the series against the Tigers (31-20, 12-9 Big West Conference), who could have moved into second place in the conference with a three-game sweep, Haniger hit a third-inning grand slam that staked Wright to a 5-0 lead.
It was the second slam of the season for Cal Poly (20-31, 10-14 Big West) and sixth home run of the year for Haniger, who improved his batting average to .317 with a 2-for-5 day, as the Mustangs took two of three.
“The last few games, I think I was just pulling my head off the ball a little bit,” said the freshman designated hitter. “I just went to work in the cage yesterday and this morning just trying to keep my head on the ball and stay through it. I got some pitches I could drive today and hit them pretty hard.”
Haniger drove a 3-1 fastball deep over the wall in left-centerfield. Also capitalizing on a vicious wind blowing out to left, left-handed first baseman David Van Ostrand hit an opposite-field shot and catcher Jordan Hadlock pulled one out, too.
Despite pitching in decidedly offensive conditions, the five early runs were plenty for Wright.
Since beating Cal State Northridge 5-3 on April 18, the junior right-hander had allowed 24 earned runs and 26 hits in his past four starts. Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee waited until Sunday morning to declare a starter because he was unsure about his options.
Pitching to prove his worth Sunday, Wright needed just 86 pitches to get through seven full innings, and nearly 70 percent of his pitches went for strikes.
“I definitely think that if I wanted to pitch again for the rest of the year, I needed to pitch well today,” Wright said. “That was definitely in the back of my mind the whole game.”
Before giving up just six hits and three walks against Pacific, his main issue was control. Walks, hit batters and hitters’ counts had been dogging the Cerro Coso College transfer.
“I was trying to do too much, just trying be that guy,” Wright said, “but maybe I just need to throw strikes and let my defense back me up and help me out. That’s what I did today, and it worked.”
Jeff Johnson struck out more batters (two) in his two innings of relief than Wright did through seven, but the Tigers managed just one extra-base hit — a second-inning double by Joe Oliveira — against Wright.
Wright did walk two and hit one batter in the third, but it was only a momentary lapse. Lee said he wasn’t worried Wright would fall back into bad habits.
“He had good stuff, which was important,” Lee said. “He didn’t just have one pitch working. He had an idea with two or three different pitches. The majority of the time, it’s pretty simple if you can spot your pitches.”Things have also looked simple for the Mustangs offensively, especially lately.
Their first four hitters in the batting order all sport averages hovering around .330, and the top half of the order combined for 11 hits Sunday.
Adam Melker was 3 for 5 with a run and an RBI, and No. 7 hitter J.J. Thompson went 3 for 3, also scoring and driving in one.
Yoder, who leads the team with a .338 average, had just one hit, but it was a double that moved him atop the program’s all-time career list.
His fourth double of the series upped his total to 49, one more than former record-holder Jon Macalutas, who played from 1993-96.
Yoder also scored twice to up his career-record total to 180 in that category.
The team had 15 hits. It was the 11th time in 13 games Cal Poly has gone for double digits, and it also coincides with a recent winning streak that has kept the season from being altogether disastrous.
The Mustangs were just 10-27 and had dropped 21 of 25 games after a 12-8 loss to Long Beach State on April 30. But after that defeat, Cal Poly came back to take the series — its first weekend series win of the year — and has won 10 of the past 14 games.
Van Ostrand has gotten a hit in all but the first of those past 14, and is hitting .426 with nine doubles, two home runs and 17 RBI during the streak.
Lee said it hasn’t just been hitting. The team is also pitching better and playing better defensively, and it’s just in time to go into the offseason feeling better about the prospects for next year.
Cal Poly has just four games remaining, a Tuesday matchup with Loyola Marymount and a weekend series with visiting Cal State Bakersfield.
“It’s not going to be a great year looking back on it,” Haniger said, “but at least the second half, we played well.”