Coming off its first Big West series win last weekend against Cal Poly, the UCSB softball team will spend the next two weekends on the road, travelling to Cal State Northridge this weekend for a three-game series.
The result will have major implications in the conference standings as the two teams are tied for fourth place. The Gauchos enter the series at 23-16 overall and 3-3 in the Big West while the Matadors hold a 26-15 overall mark and stand at an equal 3-3 in conference play.
“Right now, our main goal is to take at least two games,” senior second baseman Kathryn Pilpil said. “The last couple weeks we haven’t exactly been stringing [wins] together, so now we’re trying to get some more hits in and string it together.”
Statistically, Santa Barbara and Northridge are very similar teams. On the offensive end, the two are tied for third in the Big West in hits, recording 289 on the season. The Gauchos and Matadors also go one and two, respectively, in at bats this season.
Nevertheless, UCSB features a more balanced attack with three players with over 20 runs and four players that have fit four home runs this season.
One player hitting extremely well this year has been freshman leftfielder Kristen Clark. Leading off for the Gauchos, Clark leads the Big West in hits with 62 on the year. She’s also hit four triples and ranks first in conference with a .431 batting average.
“She’s definitely taken on a big role,” Pilpil said. “She had to fill in the spot of Jessica Soria [from last year] at the top, so she’s doing a really good job and working hard. Even though she’s a freshman, a lot of people look to her as one of our most consistent players. We expect her to come through and she’s been doing a really good job.”
CSUN will look to the offensive prowess of freshman first baseman Taylor Glover. Up second in the rotation, she ranks third in conference in runs at 29, second in hits with 52 and is tied for first in triples with five on the year. Glover also tops the Big West in RBI with 35 and is the third-best in slugging percentage at .618.
Where the Matadors may have the edge is in the circle. As a team, Northridge ranks second in the league in hits, giving up just 6.36 per game, as well as in ERA at 2.67.
Leading the pitching staff is junior Brianna Elder, who holds an impressive 17-6 record on the year and ranks second in the Big West with a 1.89 ERA. After giving up just one earned run in 14 innings last weekend in CSUN’s series over UC Davis, Elder was named Big West Pitcher of the Week.
However, junior pitcher Jordan Sauceda could also cause problems for UCSB as she ranks third in the conference in ERA at 2.62.
“We need to score more runs,” junior pitcher Shelby Wisdom said. “We didn’t score that high last weekend, so we want to score one run an inning, so seven runs a game. What we’ve been working on is getting the leadoff hitter on base and then bunting her over. And then the next batter is going to hit behind her and score her and we’re going to continue doing that.”
For the Gauchos, Wisdom will also be given the pitching responsibilities. She ranks second in innings pitched in the Big West this season and has an ERA of 3.20. As a staff, Santa Barbara holds the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the conference at 1.6.
“I’m working on throwing more strikes and spinning the ball,” Wisdom said. “Last weekend, I couldn’t find the strike zone, so what I need to do is find the umpire’s strike zone and pitch to the umpire’s strikes and not what I think the strike zone is.”
UCSB will play in a double-header Saturday before finishing off the series Sunday. Game one is set for Saturday at noon at Matador Diamond.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of April 10, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.