After a slow start, Cal Poly baseball is starting to turn things around

Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday, the Cal Poly baseball team was on the verge of dropping its second Big West conference series in a row after the Mustangs took the opener on Friday but lost in dispiriting fashion on Saturday.

Then, the team got rolling.

After tying the game, first-team All-Big West member and freshman All-American Ryan Stafford stepped to home plate.

With the bases loaded, Stafford hit a grand slam to give the Mustangs a 7-3 advantage.

Ryan Baum closed it out in the ninth inning earning the win with 4-1/3 innings of no-hit ball and giving Cal Poly its first conference series win.

Cal Poly first baseman Joe Yorke (55) just misses the tag on UC Irvine’s Chase Call (26) in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.
Cal Poly first baseman Joe Yorke (55) just misses the tag on UC Irvine’s Chase Call (26) in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.

The Mustangs are now 3-3 in the Big West and 6-14 overall.

“We’re starting to figure out our identity a little bit more. We have a really resilient offense. We can put up big numbers at any time,” first baseman Joe Yorke said. “(We put) up a lot of crooked numbers and then a lot of zeroes, so we need to need to hone in on how we can be more consistent as an offense, and once we do that, we should be smooth sailing.”

Saturday’s loss also featured a Mustang grand slam, this time from center fielder Jake Steels, and Cal Poly got out to an early 5-0 lead in the second inning, only to see UC Irvine rally for nine unanswered runs.

The Mustangs didn’t score again till the seventh, adding two runs in an eventual 9-7 loss.

Cal Poly’s Jake Steels (20) heads for home after hitting a grand slam in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.
Cal Poly’s Jake Steels (20) heads for home after hitting a grand slam in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.

Nevertheless, with the UC Irvine series win, things could be looking up for the young Mustangs team.

“We lost a lot of quality players from last year, and we knew we were going to have some possible early season struggles, but you really just don’t know until the lights go on for real,” Lee said in a news release after Sunday’s game.

A slow start but room to improve

After a strong first weekend that saw the team take two of three from Missouri State, the Mustangs mustered only one more win in non-conference play, coming against No. 18 Oregon State.

However, in the series against the Beavers the team showed its potential, competing with and beating a top-25 ranked opponent, even with such a young team.

Cal Poly’s Ryan Fenn (8) gets a high five from Wyatt King (28) in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.
Cal Poly’s Ryan Fenn (8) gets a high five from Wyatt King (28) in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.

Before the season, Head Coach Larry Lee talked about how Yorke, Stafford, Collin Villegas and Cal State Bakersfield transfer Aaron Casillas were all players who have “the ability mentally to slow the game down.”

For the five other new players in the lineup, it was going to take repetition competing at the Division 1 level for them to feel comfortable.

With the team moving to Big West play, the team has a chance to put it all together and put the slow start behind them.

Who’s stood out

Steels and Villegas have stood out as strong bats in the lineup.

Steels, who hit the grand slam on Saturday, is batting .346 and has 12 runs on the year. Villegas is hitting a respectable .284 and leads the team in home runs with six.

Stafford and Yorke were projected to be two of the most consistent bats in the lineup.

Stafford has the most at-bats on the team and is hitting .272 with three home runs. Yorke missed time early in the season and hasn’t completely found his rhythm.

“(Stafford) and I work incredibly hard. We’re also two leaders on this team that push each other, so it’s not a work ethic issue,” Yorke said. “Maybe just pressing a little bit. Trying to be the guys driving the runs instead of just being a part of the offense.”

Cal Poly’s Travis Weston (34) pitches in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.
Cal Poly’s Travis Weston (34) pitches in the Mustangs’ 9-7 loss to UC Irvine in a Big West Conference baseball game at Baggett Stadium, San Luis Obispo on March 25, 2023.

On the pitching front, the team is searching for some solid play.

Bryce Warrecker leads the team with a 3.24 ERA, to go with a 1-1 record. Derek True has given solid play from the bullpen in nine appearances, sporting a 3.38 ERA.

Winning three of their last six games, the Mustangs will look to keep the momentum going during their midweek matchup at Fresno State on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m.

Following that game, the team will continue Big West play on the road at Long Beach State, with the first game of the series on Friday at 6 p.m.