Melanie Menor lunges for a ground ball. Dustin Harris / Daily Nexus

Winners of their last three series, the UCSB Softball team come into Wednesday’s game against the Fresno State Bulldogs hoping for a strong finish to what has been a very productive six-game homestand. This will be the last out of conference game for the Gauchos as they get ready for a key stretch of Big West matchups that end the season.

UCSB comes into this game sporting a 24-20, 5-4 conference record and currently sit in fourth place in the Big West. The Bulldogs, losers of six of their past seven games and looking to bounce back from a pair of consecutive losses, come into Wednesday afternoon with a 25-17, 5-6 conference record.

The Gauchos will try to continue to feed off the amazing play of outfielder Jessica Johnston, who won the Big West’s field player of the week award last week for her herculean efforts against CSUN. 

In that series, the junior batted .500 and had a whopping 1.000 slugging percentage, all while making the biggest plays of the first and third game which eventually led to wins for UCSB in both those games. Overall, Johnston comes into Wednesday batting .364 on the season with the most doubles on the team (12) and the second most hits (51) and has proven to be a key cog in the Gauchos offense.

Fresno State has an offensive standout of their own, however, as sophomore Morgan Howe has been stellar at the plate this year. Although she went a combined 0-4 in her last two appearances, the outfielder has put together an impressive slash line of .426/.512/.624 on the year and leads her team with 51 hits.

The UCSB pitching staff will need to prioritize shutting her down as the Bulldog’s success has been inextricably linked to her production this year, however as her numbers prove this will be easier said than done.

The task of shutting down Howe and Fresno State’s potent offense will be given to the Gaucho’s pitchers, who have certainly risen to the challenge these last two series. Other than two extreme outliers, in the last six games the UCSB pitching staff has performed really well, shutting out opposing teams three times and giving the bats a comfortable amount of room to operate.

Leading the way has been sophomore Veronika Gulvin (16-9), who has continued her impressive season claiming a team best ERA (2.73), the most innings pitched (159), and the most wins as well. However, if the Gauchos are going to want to have extended success, the rest of the pitching staff is going to have to keep up and improve the product they’ve put on the field the last few series.

The Bulldogs pitching staff comes into this game led by sophomore Kamalani Dung (16-10). Dung can claim the lowest ERA out of all the pitchers in this matchup with a stingy 2.24, however, she has had good support from the rest of the pitchers on Fresno State as their average ERA comes in almost a whole point lower than UCSB’s.

The Bulldogs also hold their opponents to a lower batting average than the Gauchos (.259 vs .293), so it will be key for UCSB to take advantage of any baserunners they get as it won’t be a common occurrence.

While this matchup might not mean much in terms of placement for either team in their respective conferences, both teams will be looking to build up confidence going into the final stretch of the season.

Fresno State will try to put an end to their losing streak before their slate of Mountain West games, while UCSB has an opportunity to hold the fort against some of the better pitching they will face and start a win streak that they will look to ride to the top of the conference standings.
First pitch between UC Santa Barbara and Fresno State is Wednesday, April 19, at 3 p.m.

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