Shelby Wisdom crouched down on the pitcher’s mound and mumbled something to herself, clearly frustrated and disappointed.
The junior had just given up a grand slam and the eighth run of the inning to Long Beach State. The moment seemed to sum up the heartbreaking day that would ensue for the UCSB softball team.
On Senior Day and the final day of the regular season, a day that featured a showdown between the Big West’s best teams and decided the conference champion, the Gauchos came up just short.
After scoring six runs in the first inning, Santa Barbara fell behind 6-9 by the end of the fourth. UCSB made its comeback in the sixth, knotting the score at nine, only to fall 10-9 in extra innings.
“It’s heartbreaking not being the team out there celebrating a Big West Championship,” Head Coach Brie Galicinao said. “I think no matter who you are, you’re always thinking you [could’ve] done something better when it was this close.”
Still tied entering the ninth, freshman designated hitter Lauren Lombardi, who hit the grand slam in the fourth and led her team on the day hitting 3-5 with two runs and four RBI, got to first base on a ball that dropped right behind Wisdom and in front of freshman shortstop Emily Brucelas.
In the end, despite solid defense all series, that one catchable ball would end up being the winning run that punched the 49ers’ ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“There were a lot of small plays that made the difference, but it makes it tough when that’s the one that scored,” Galicinao said.
The Gauchos finish their season at 34-20 overall and 14-7 in the Big West. Long Beach improves to 38-17 overall and 15-6 in conference, winning its seventh league title.
Although Santa Barbara didn’t come away with the victory, it was a record-breaking year in many ways. UCSB ends its season with the highest win percentage (.630) in program history and tied the record for most wins in a single season in program history.
Individually, Wisdom becomes the first Gaucho to record consecutive 20-plus win seasons and now owns the record for most wins in a single season for a pitcher with 63, finishing at 22-15 on the year. Freshman left fielder Kristen Clark also shattered the single season hit record of 75 against Hawaii, finishing the year with 90 hits. She also broke the single season batting average of .417 with a .437 average.
However, the one record that mattered most for UCSB was winning its first ever Big West title, and the Gauchos didn’t get the job done.
“From the start, we talked about the Big West [Championship] and being there in the end. No one really thought we could be there in the end,” senior second baseman Kathryn Pilpil said. “We came up a little short and they were just a little more clutch than we were.”
The Big West crown came down to the final day of the regular season after Santa Barbara evened the series at one, thanks to a five-run fourth inning.
Winning 6-3, sophomore catcher Meme Moore anchored the Gauchos offensively, hitting 1-2 with three RBI. Brucelas also went 3-3 at the plate with one run and one RBI while Wisdom hit 1-2 with two runs. Wisdom finished the weekend with four runs and two RBI on 4-7 hitting, including 2-3 with two runs and two RBI in Saturday’s critical rubber game.
“The second game they played a lot looser. In general, they had better-quality at bats,” Galicinao said. “Long Beach even pulled ahead in that second game, but we were able to punch right back. All the way to the last pitch, you can’t ever count this group out.”
Game one, on the other hand, swung Long Beach’s way as Santa Barbara gave up four home runs and fell 7-5.
“Long Beach is a really good hitting team and when you throw it in their wheelhouse, the chances are they’re going to hit it pretty hard,” Galicinao said. “Being the series that it was, [Shelby] was amped up, throwing a little bit harder. They took advantage.”
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of May 12th, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Dustin Harris of the Daily Nexus.