Cal Poly

Cal Poly baseball team saves the best for last

Cal Poly’s Luke Yoder slides under the tag of Cal State Bakersfield catcher Jeremy Rodriguez to score a run during the Mustangs’ 12-3 win Friday night at Baggett Stadium. It was the first game of Cal Poly’s final series of the season.
Cal Poly’s Luke Yoder slides under the tag of Cal State Bakersfield catcher Jeremy Rodriguez to score a run during the Mustangs’ 12-3 win Friday night at Baggett Stadium. It was the first game of Cal Poly’s final series of the season. nlucero@thetribunenews.com

Still with nothing in the way of postseason motivation, the Cal Poly baseball team has continued its winning trend.

The Mustangs pounded visiting Cal State Bakersfield 12-3 in the first of a season-ending three-game series Friday at Baggett Stadium to improve to 12-4 in their past 16 games.

With an overall record of 22-31, Cal Poly isn’t in line for an at-large berth for an NCAA Regional, and with a 10-14 Big West Conference record, the Mustangs can do no better than a fifth-place finish.

But Cal Poly has been fueled by a recent surge of outgoing players who may have been playing for their professional futures this past month.

“It’s good to show that you don’t give up because things aren’t going your way,” said junior pitcher Matt Leonard, who’s aiming to be picked in the MLB draft this summer. “You still show up. You still work hard to be successful. Now that we’ve come together, I think it’s catching a few eyes.”

Friday was a textbook example.

Senior centerfielder Adam Melker batted 4 for 5 with a double, two runs scored and four RBI, and senior left fielder Luke Yoder was 3 for 5 with a double, three runs and three RBI as the Mustangs feasted on Roadrunners starter Mickey Jannis — a former Arroyo Grande High standout — for eight runs on 11 hits in the first four innings.

Leonard (2-7), a left-hander in his fourth year after missing a full season with Tommy John surgery, picked up his second straight win and lowered his season ERA to 4.97 after giving up three runs on seven hits through eight innings.

Though he gave up two runs in the eighth, Leonard mostly stymied a Cal State Bakersfield team that had a team batting average of .309 coming in and featured two players with averages hovering around .400.

Leonard held the top four Roadrunners’ batters to 0-for-11 hitting going into the seventh, while his offense racked up runs in each of the first five.

Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said he thought it was Leonard’s last start in a Mustangs uniform. Leonard hoped so.

“I’m hoping the draft works out,” said Leonard, who has another season of eligibility because of the injury redshirt, “but if not, it will be good to come back. We have a good squad, and I think, especially winning at the end of the season like this, we can carry it into next year.”

Others like Yoder, Melker and senior David Van Ostrand don’t have that same luxury, and have been playing like it over the past 17 games.

Over that span, Melker has hit .479 and raised his season batting average to .340, an improvement of 82 points. Van Ostrand, who got a late start on the season while he waited for the NCAA to grant him another year of eligibility, has come on as well.

After going 1 for 5 with two RBI on Friday, Van Ostrand is batting .338. He’s raised his average 63 points while hitting .444 over the past 17 games.

“Baseball’s a frustrating game sometimes,” Melker said. “So, I’ve learned that even though you want to be on a even keel, you have to enjoy the success because those times don’t always last.

“I feel like I’ve played how I’ve always played. Things are just working out.”

The past couple of weeks, the focus has been more on Yoder, who ranks in the top 10 in 10 of the program’s career offensive statistical categories and ranks first in program history in runs and doubles.

He’s also in line to become the first Cal Poly player to hit better than .300 for four seasons at the Division I level.

But Melker is right behind him in one category: Doubles.

While Yoder paces the program with 50 doubles, Melker ranks sixth with 45 and has two more games to pass Jon Macalutas (48) for second.

“I really didn’t even know until about five games or so ago, until Yoder told me,” Melker said. “He’s like, ‘You’re catching up. You’re right behind me in doubles.’

“I don’t think about it. Yoder’s awesome. He’s been here for four years, hit .300, set all sorts of records. Just to be near where he’s at right now is a cool thing to me.”

All three seniors have their eyes not only on today’s game, scheduled for a 1 p.m. first pitch, and Sunday’s season finale, but also their professional prospects.

Yoder has been on the draft radar since his high school days, and Lee said Yoder has raised his stock this season. For others like Melker and Van Ostrand, it’s less clear how much they’ve improved their odds of being drafted with their late-season success.

Pro scouts, Lee said, have mostly come and gone, and were mostly around to see Cal Poly wallowing in a 4-21 midseason slump.

But improved statistics can only help draft-eligible players.

“If you look at our numbers 17 games ago, and you see where we are today, especially offensively, our numbers are night and day,” Lee said. “The top four guys in our lineup, their numbers have been really good, and they’ve really put a good cap on their season.”

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