As Amanda Sandoval was walking to the plate with the game in the balance, Emily Ceccacci had one bit of advice for her Cal Poly softball teammate.
“Get on,” Cecacci said, “because I want another at-bat. The next at-bat’s the one.”
The senior made good on that vow, hitting the game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the seventh Friday to give the Mustangs (9-14) a 1-0 walk-off win over visiting San Diego, their first victory of the season at Bob Janssen Field.
Cal Poly ended with a doubleheader split at the Mustang Classic after an earlier 3-2 loss to Southern Utah, but Ceccacci’s clutch hit made sure an effective start by pitcher Sierra Hyland didn’t go for naught as the Mustangs played without head coach Jenny Condon.
Condon is away from the team on bereavement leave, third-year associate head coach Gina Vecchione said, and is still determining when she will make her return.
Hyland improved her record to 7-8 on the year, allowing just two hits and a walk in her fourth shutout of the season. She struck out 10 batters, including five of the first six she faced.
Facing the minimum through the first four innings, Hyland took a no-hitter to the fifth.
The only trouble she encountered was a two-out rally in the sixth by the Toreros (10-11).
Hyland hit Kylie Crawford with a pitch, and pinch-runner Kylie McNutt went to second on a single by Frankie Perales, but Tatum Schultz grounded back to Hyland to end the threat.
The Mustangs loaded the bases in the first and stranded runners in the second, fifth and sixth innings, but they struggled getting the big hit.
“Putting runners on and keep knocking on the door,” Vecchione said. “That’s a victory in itself each inning. We know if we keep the pressure on, eventually we’re going to it done.”
Cal Poly did just that. Still, it seemed as if the Mustangs came dangerously close to defeat yet again.
Since opening the season 4-2, Cal Poly has lost 12 of 17 — with five of those losses coming by one or two runs.
The one-run victory “felt great just because we deserve it,” Hyland said. “We’ve been pushing really close games a lot lately. We just kind of needed one to up our spirits just a little bit.”
After relief pitcher Paige Von Sprecken came on for San Diego with two on in the seventh, she walked Sandoval on four straight pitches. That loaded the bases after Heather West and Susanne Morris each had one-out singles to chase starter Grace Hernandez.
Ceccacci hit a 1-1 pitch from Von Sprecken that lobbed just over Perales at second base and into right to drive in freshman pinch-runner Nicole Coppinger for the winning run in Coppinger’s collegiate debut.
It’s been a trying start to the season at the plate for Ceccacci. She hit .356 last season, which was good enough to rank 10th on the program’s all-time single-season list.
After going 1 for 5 on Friday, her season average stands at .203.
Vecchione said that even though Ceccacci started the season slow, she’s swinging the bat well now, even if those good swings have yet to translate into a long string of hits.
“Good contact doesn’t always equal a hit in the books, but it’s all about the process, not the result,” Vecchione said. “We have them focus on quality at-bats.
“Emily has a lot of quality at-bats.”
Cal Poly has two more games in the Mustang Classic — against Sacramento State at 2 p.m. today and Bryant at 2 p.m. Sunday — and nine more nonconference games before Big West Conference play starts at the end of the month.
From that point on is the most crucial part of the season in the Mustangs’ quest to make the postseason.
“I just have to keep swinging it, and then the hits will come,” Ceccacci said. “If I’m going to peak in conference, so be it because that’s what matters.”