The UCSB softball team travels to Cal Poly today to play the rival Mustangs in two games that could be significant to the rest of its season.
The Gauchos currently sit in the bottom half of the Big West standings at 2-4, tied with UC Davis for sixth place. Cal Poly has gotten off to a solid 5-4 start in the Big West, despite owning just a 16-22 overall record.
After a disappointing start to conference play, a sense of urgency seems like it may be blooming in the young squad.
“We stress more about conference games in general,” senior outfielder Jessica Soria said. “But because of how we started conference, we know how much more important it is for us to win now.”
UCSB has struggled since its first conference games over two weeks ago, dropping two out of three to Cal State Fullerton before losing two one-run stingers to the University of the Pacific.
Sophomore pitcher Shelby Wisdom, the team’s leader on offense (32 RBI) and defense (2.89 ERA), isn’t looking at the upcoming week the same as some of her teammates are.
“We play every game, conference or non-conference, with just as much intensity and significance as any other,” Wisdom said. “As for this week, [last] weekend’s losses won’t be a factor in our minds and we’ll go after it like any other game.”
While its offense has struggled this season, Cal Poly has won games with its defense. Four of their five Big West wins were shutouts, and their offense averaged just 2.5 runs in those games.
The Mustangs also rank second in the Big West in strikeouts with 190.
UCSB’s offense, on the other hand, continues to be led by the trio of Wisdom, Soria and senior shortstop Keilani Jennings.
As leadoff hitter, Soria is leading the team in runs for the second straight season with 29, good for second in the Big West. She also leads the Big West in stolen bases (19) and is on pace to break her own career best for steals in a season.
Last year, her 25 stolen bases were good enough for sixth all time in the UCSB record book.
Wisdom and Jennings, as they have done all season, continue paving the way for themselves and their teammates to round the bases. Between the two, they account for over 45 percent of the entire team’s RBI totals (56) and 75 percent of its home runs (12).
Their slugging percentages aren’t too shabby either. Wisdom sits in eighth in the Big West with a .554 slugging percentage, while Jennings is sixth in the Big West with a .604 slugging percentage.
With Cal Poly ranking next to last in opposing batting average (.300), the Gauchos’ offensive leaders should be looking to take advantage.
If the Gauchos are going to find a way to make it back up the standings before it’s too late, they are likely going to have to take advantage of teams with overall losing records like Cal Poly, especially with conference leaders No. 15 Hawaii (31-7, 9-0) and Long Beach State (25-15, 7-2) taking up six of the final nine games on their schedule.
While this won’t be the biggest challenge UCSB has faced or will face this year, it needs to take care of business regardless.
“If we can take anything away from the games in the past, it’s that our team is capable of competing with even the top teams,” Soria said. “It’s just time for us to realize it now.”
UCSB plays Cal Poly at 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. today in San Luis Obispo.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mark Brocher of the Daily Nexus.