Coming off late inning heroics in their last outing, the Gaucho bats didn’t have the same pop this weekend as the No. 18 Long Beach State 49ers walked all over the UCSB softball team.
Santa Barbara was swept in three straight at home, losing games 1 and 2 by scores of 5-3 and 10-2 respectively and ultimately dropping the series finale by a score of 4-1.
The Gauchos now sit at 17-28 overall on the season, and 4-8 in Big West Conference play. This sweep continues an alarming trend for UCSB, which is that when the team begins to show signs of life, a solemn series often follows.
They’ve only won consecutive series once this season, and that lack of consistency is a big reason Santa Barbara has now dropped to seventh place out of eight teams in the Big West Conference.
To be fair, it’s typical to have great disparity in any game in which nationally ranked Long Beach is competing. The 49ers boast a 36-9 holistic record on the season and have dominated Big West play with an 11-2 conference record, leading to them being the only conference representative in the NCAA Top 25.
One only has to look at LBSU’s pitching staff to understand their dominance so far.
Niners sophomore ace Cielo Meza took control of the Gauchos early in the series finale and hope seemed to diminish slowly as Meza was lights out on the rubber. The righty went 4.2 innings while allowing 2 hits,1 earned run, and 8 punchouts. She struggled with her location at times and offered up 8 walks in the process but kept Gaucho bats quiet otherwise.
Meza improved her record to 20-3 on the season, now sporting a 1.39 ERA- both marks are good for the best in the Big West Conference.
She continues to blow by batters by adding to her conference best strikeout total at 187 K’s on the year, 22 more punchouts than the next highest pitcher has this season.
When the ‘Chos began to threaten after a couple of Meza walks in the fifth, Senior pitcher Jessica Flores trotted to the circle and took command of the final three innings.
Flores picked up her eighth win on the season in game 2 on Saturday and came in to close out Sunday’s finale for her eighth relief appearance of the year.
Flores continued the Niners dominance by allowing a mere two hits and no earned runs over 2.1 innings pitched. This improves her save total to 3 on the season, good for first in the conference as she shares the title with her fellow Niner teammate in Devyn Magnett.
UCSB was unable to capitalize on Long Beach misses as the Gauchos left 12 base runners stranded, an almost extraordinary number against the stingy 49er pitching staff.
This offensive inefficiency is not something that the Gauchos will be looking to replicate in their next series, as scoring only one run while being walked 10 times will not lead to many victories
Although Santa Barbara struggled at the plate on Sunday, they managed to improve their effort on defense and erase the errors which have plagued them this year.
With no outs in the top of the fifth, Long Beach junior shortstop Nichole Fry hit a shot into the gap in deep left center. Freshman left field standout Sammy Fabian robbed what was sure be an extra base hit as she laid out and made a spectacular diving catch to curb the Niners momentum and keep the Gauchos close.
Fabian got the jump she needed as the ball left the bat and read it perfectly to close the gap just in the nick of time to make a premier snag on a ball that was dropping quickly. It seems that off the field work has made a difference as the year has worn on.
“Lots of practice… we’ve been doing so much work, specifically on (gappers), so I saw it and just went for it,” Fabian answered postgame when asked about how she made the play.
The freshman is leading the Gauchos in batting average and hitting .346 on the year. Not only is she prone to getting on base with a .403 on base percentage, but Fabian also possesses unique speed on the base path.
She has stolen 9 bases this season, good for fourth most in the Big West Conference. Her stellar offensive play was definitely a bright spot for UCSB in an otherwise rough sweep.
Fabian and the rest of the UCSB (17-28, 4-8) squad shift their attention to Cal State Northridge (18-32, 3-9) and a three-game away series in Los Angeles next weekend. The Gauchos have a doubleheader on Saturday, April 28 and will polish off the rest series on the following Sunday, April 29.