There has never been a more important time this season for the UCSB softball team to earn a series sweep.
In their final road series of the regular season, the Gauchos travel to UC Riverside currently in second place in the Big West standings and three games behind Long Beach State.
A sweep guarantees Santa Barbara mathematically stays in the race for a Big West Championship and would set the stage for an incredible showdown next weekend at Campus Diamond when the Gauchos and 49ers will go head to head.
In addition, while UCSB takes on the worst team in the conference, Long Beach hosts a tough Cal Poly squad, which currently ranks third in the Big West. If Cal Poly can steal a game or two and Santa Barbara can earn three wins, the Gauchos put their fate in their own hands for next weekend.
“We know our goal is to sweep this weekend,” junior utility DeJanee Moore said. “We know this is a very big series, especially since Long Beach is still number one. It’s very important to sweep because our goal for this entire year was a Big West Championship and we know sweeping puts us in a good position to be Big West Champions this year.”
Of course, UCSB will have to go through Riverside first. The Gauchos are currently 30-18 overall and 10-5 in the Big West while the Highlanders travel south with a 22-26 overall and 3-12 conference mark. UCR has dropped five of its last six games while Santa Barbara has won nine of its last 11.
“We just need to stay within striking distance until that last weekend (when UCSB plays LBSU),” Head Coach Brie Galicinao said. “[It’s] one game at a time because Riverside has taken some games from teams and that’s what’s exciting about the Big West. Nothing is a gimme at all.”
After a series victory against a Hawaii team that UCSB has struggled with in the past, the Gauchos have plenty of momentum moving forward. The series featured three high-scoring games, two of which went into extra innings. In 34 innings against the Rainbow Wahine, Santa Barbara put 23 runs on the board.
“We really proved that we can perform in pressure situations,” junior third baseman Jenessa Jeppesen said. “That’s going to make everyone push a little harder, work a little harder for this weekend and allow us to be more confident.”
Freshman leftfielder Kristen Clark helped UCSB to victory in Sunday’s rubber game, hitting 4-4 at the plate. In doing so, she set the single season hitting record with 76 on the year. Clark currently ranks first in the Big West in hits with the second-best player over 10 hits lower at 65.
“[Clark is] a great player,” Moore said. “In the lead-off position, she’s there to start rallies. Her speed allows us to stay in the game even when people think we’re out of the game. She’ll get that base hit and all you need is a base hit to start a rally, so she’s been a really important aspect to the team this year.”
Riverside ranks in the lower half of nearly every statistical category both offensively and defensively. However, in their last nine games, the Highlanders are 3-0 when scoring six or more runs. All losses have come in lower-scoring games.
Offensively, UCR’s biggest offensive threat is senior centerfielder Dionne Anderson. Anderson ranks fifth in the Big West in runs with 33, seventh in hits with 53, sixth in batting average at .379 and third in on-base percentage at .503.
“Any team can come out and have a really great day and any great team can come out and have a bad day,” Jeppesen said. “It’s all about keeping our pitches where they need to be and having solid defense. We have to know how to pitch to them and play our defense. They’re all really strong runners, so we have to be on our toes on defense.”
Trying to keep the score low and guarantee the Gauchos their fifth consecutive series victory is junior pitcher Shelby Wisdom.
Currently 18-13 on the season, Wisdom has pitched the most innings in the Big West. Earning her 18th win last weekend, she passed her season win total from last season.
Wisdom ranks seventh in the league in ERA at 3.38. Meanwhile, Riverside also has a solid pitcher in junior Alyssa Razo, who sits one spot above Wisdom with her 3.25 ERA.
“Their pitching is not as fast as what we saw [last] weekend,” Jeppesen said. “We really have to be patient and work the count, but we have a lot of really disciplined hitters on the team. Hopefully, it’ll go in our favor.”
First pitch in Saturday’s doubleheader is set for noon at Amy S. Harrison field. The series finale will take place Sunday at noon.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of May 1st’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Dustin Harris of The Daily Nexus.