The UCSB softball team faces one of its toughest challenges of the year this weekend when it travels to No. 22 Hawaii for its final away games of the season.
The Gauchos come in at 28-21 overall and 9-9 in conference games. The Rainbow Wahine, on the other hand, have lived up to their preseason billing in their first year in the Big West by dominating the league, entering Friday’s games with a 15-3 conference record and 38-10 overall record.
“We’re hungry,” junior first baseman Lauren Boser said. “We want to go into Hawaii and show them that joining the Big West isn’t a walk in the park.”
Before last weekend, the Rainbow Wahine had gone 14-1 in the Big West with their only loss coming from Cal State Fullerton. However, the Gauchos play them at what may be their most vulnerable time of the season, as they are coming off consecutive blowout losses to Long Beach State.
“Hawaii’s sitting at the top and we’re gunning for them,” Boser said. “They have everything to lose and we plan on taking it from them.”
The Gauchos haven’t been playing their best ball either though, finding themselves in an up-and-down stretch over the last month and a half that has seen them go 9-13 in their last 22 games.
While Santa Barbara’s offense has struggled to put up runs in the past few months, the team has still been able to consistently rely on the leadership and two-way play of sophomore pitcher Shelby Wisdom.
Wisdom’s 39 RBIs are good for second in the Big West, and she has compiled 119 strikeouts, fifth most in the conference, despite sharing a lot of time in the circle with junior Andriana Collins and freshman Alex Pingree.
“Shelby has improved tremendously; she’s taken more of a leadership role and that’s been very helpful for everybody,” sophomore infielder Jenessa Jeppesen said. “She’s been a really good role model for everyone on the team just by setting an example by pushing herself and being the best she can be.”
Despite the fact that it doesn’t exactly have one standout player on offense, Hawaii utilizes an overall balanced attack. To put the team’s numbers in perspective, Hawaii has five players with 30 or more RBIs this season, compared to just one for UCSB.
The Rainbow Wahine’s offense has put up an average of 5.4 runs per game in 2013, but what truly carries them is the remarkable play of their pitcher, senior Kaia Parnaby.
With just six games left before NCAA Regionals, Parnaby has already struck out an incredible 301 batters this season. In second place behind her in the Big West is LBSU’s junior pitcher Erin Jones-Wesley with just 172 strikeouts.
Parnaby’s 1.30 ERA is by far the lowest in the conference, and her 34-4 starting record is one of the best in the entire nation.
Santa Barbara and Hawaii kick off the weekend on Friday at 9 p.m. and finish their season series on Saturday with games at 5 and 7 p.m. All games will be at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of May 2nd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.