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In the past, the UCSB softball team has been dominated by Hawaii, losing the all-time series 17-43. This year, it might be the Gauchos’ turn to take control.
After playing the last six games on the road, Santa Barbara returns home to host Hawaii as the hottest team in the Big West. UCSB has won seven of its last eight games and sits just two games behind first-place Long Beach State at 28-17 overall and 8-4 in conference.
The Gauchos, who need to make up ground quickly on the 49ers as only the top-seeded team at the end of the regular season guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, will play six of their final nine games at home.
On the other hand, Hawaii makes the journey to UCSB with a 19-22 overall and 4-8 Big West mark. The Rainbow Wahine, who won the Big West last year, have lost seven consecutive games.
“We definitely think we’re going to come back and get the win and redeem ourselves from last year,” junior infielder Jenessa Jeppesen said. “It would be a huge win for us because they’ve always been a top competitor for us. With the lineup we have this year, I think we can finally take a series with them.”
While not a particularly strong offensive team, Hawaii knows how to hit the long ball and wants to see high-scoring games. Hawaii ranks second in the Big West in home runs with 47 on the season, including a league-leading 12 during conference play.
This season, Hawaii lives and dies by the home run, going 2-13 when hit it hits zero home runs and 11-3 when the team hits two or more home runs. If the Rainbow Wahine can put six or more runs on the board, they are nearly unbeatable at 16-1 this year.
Hawaii’s biggest target offensively is Leisha Li’ili’i. The junior first baseman ranks second in the conference in homers with 12 on the season. As a result, she is also tied for second in walks. Li’ili’i’s .514 on base percentage and slugging percentage during league play of .875 also place second in conference.
“Hawaii’s always had really strong hitters, so we have to know what pitches to pitch to them,” Jeppesen said.
Defensively, Hawaii doesn’t serve as a threat, owning the worst ERA in the league. In fact, the team’s best pitcher holds an ERA of 4.07. The Rainbow Wahine also give up the most runs.
Meanwhile, for UCSB, junior pitcher Shleby Wisdom will try to control Hawaii’s offense and keep the score low. During the Gauchos’ winning streak the past eight games, Wisdom has pitched every inning. Last weekend at UC Davis, she improved to 16-12 on the year.
Wisdom’s ERA of 3.14 ranks fifth in league. In addition, Santa Barbara holds the second spot in the conference in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 1.6.
“I’m going to keep the ball low and keep spinning it,” Wisdom said. “I just have to trust my defense and keep it on the field and we’ll be good.”
First pitch is set for noon on Saturday at Campus Diamond.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of April 24th’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.