For Austin Dondanville and Ben Polshuk, every pitch and every at-bat carried significant weight during their fight for playing time on the Cal Poly baseball team this spring.
The two underclassmen — Dondanville, a redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher, and Polshuk, a sophomore outfielder — have maintained that sense of urgency this summer while playing for the Victoria HarbourCats in the West Coast League.
It’s already been a record-setting summer for Victoria, which dominated the first-half schedule with a 23-4 record and won a league-record 19 consecutive games.
Perhaps no two players deserve more individual credit than Dondanville and Polshuk, who were both chosen to play in the West Coast League All-Star Game on July 19 at David Story Field in Longview, Washington.
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The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Polshuk was the projected starter in center field heading into his sophomore season at Cal Poly, but an early injury and the emergence of freshman Alex McKenna proved difficult to overcome. He finished the year with four hits in 40 at-bats.
Since heading north for the summer, Polshuk has been red hot offensively and seems to have developed an appetite for the big moments. In his first game with the HarbourCats, Polshuk went 3 for 4 with two home runs and four RBI.
Two weeks later, he hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning of a 6-5 win against the Kitsap BlueJackets, helping Victoria tie the West Coast League record with its 14th consecutive victory. Polshuk hit another home run during the HarbourCats’ 15th straight win the following day.
A Clayton native who was prep teammates with Dondanville at De La Salle High, Polshuk turned in arguably his best performance of the summer the next week. He went 2 for 3 with two runs, three RBI and hit his team-leading fourth home run of the season in a 9-1 victory over the Kelowna Falcons.
That win clinched the first-half North Division title for Victoria and secured a playoff berth for the first time in the program’s four-year history. Adding to the excitement of winning their 18th consecutive game, the HarbourCats played in front of 5,133 fans that day, the largest crowd to watch a West Coast League contest in 12 years.
Polshuk recorded his league-leading fifth home run 24 hours later, a grand slam on Canada Day in the 19th and final victory of the longest winning streak in league history. He was chosen as the West Coast League Player of the Week for his efforts.
For the season, Polshuk, who has played primarily at first base, is batting .310 with 13 hits in 42 at-bats. He has scored 13 times, driven in 15 more, drawn 15 walks and stolen six bases.
Meanwhile, Dondanville has been nothing short of superb in his second year playing for Victoria.
The 6-foot, 190-pound righty owns a 4-0 record with two complete games, and his 0.63 ERA is the lowest in the West Coast League this summer. Dondanville has surrendered two runs in more than 28 innings, and struck out 22 against five walks.
During his last outing July 8, Dondanville pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout, needing an efficient 75 pitches to finish the contest.
Fellow Mustang right-hander Cameron Schneider also is playing for the HarbourCats this summer. The 6-7, 230-pound freshman earned his first victory last week, striking out nine in five innings during a 9-3 win against the Cowlitz Black Bears.
Cal Poly’s Bobby Ay will join Polshuk and Dondanville on the North Team during the All-Star Game next week. Ay has made five starts for the Walla Walla Sweets and ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts (30) and ERA (1.32) despite holding a modest 1-0 record.
Dondanville, Schneider and Ay will likely challenge for increased innings at Cal Poly in 2017. The trio made a combined 30 appearances during the spring with varying results, and Ay’s 5.91 ERA was the lowest among the three.
West Coast League All-Star Game
When: July 19
Where: David Story Field in Longview, Washington
Mustangs to follow: OF Ben Polshuk, RHP Austin Dondanville, RHP Bobby Ay