Every cloud has a silver lining, but the lining for this year’s UCSB women’s softball team may be harder to find than others.
When the Gauchos finished their season last weekend after being swept by Cal State Northridge, Santa Barbara stood at 3-18 in Big West play and just 17-35 overall.
“We faced a lot of really big teams in the beginning of the season,” sophomore pitcher Sylvia Santos said. “But after that we just didn’t play well. Last year we came off of a pretty good year, and this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us, which it was. It has been a long season. There have been lots of downs.”
Although the Gauchos faced many struggles and setbacks over their season, no problem area was more glaring than their youth and inexperience. UCSB had five true freshman and three junior college transfers on its roster. All told, Santa Barbara had eight of its 19 players entering the season without any Division I experience.
Also contributing to the Gauchos’ struggles was their pitching. Much like the rest of the roster, the UCSB rotation was filled with youngsters, and its inexperience showed at times. Santa Barbara allowed a combined 2.26 earned runs per game compared to just 1.60 by its opponents.
Another sign of Gaucho inexperience this season was at the plate, where Santa Barbara could only muster up a .224 batting average compared to its opponents .264 average.
After opening their season with back-to-back losses to Loyola Marymount, the Gauchos flew across the Pacific to test their hand in the Hawai’i Invitational. Although Santa Barbara was not able to win the tournament, it made an impressive showing, as it notched one win over Auburn and two over Centenary.
From there, the Gauchos returned to the mainland to host their own tournament on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23. The first day of games was rained out, but UCSB made its limited number of games count on the second day. Santa Barbara smacked Santa Clara 10-4 and then downed Virginia 4-0 in an overwhelming combination of both pitching and hitting.
“We played really well at our tournament,” freshman pitcher Katie Junge said. “We were playing good teams and beating them. We just had a good sense of team unity. It just felt like we were a team.”
Unfortunately, after hosting their tournament the Gauchos lost the cohesion they once had. After those back-to-back wins, UCSB went on a skid that saw it lose 12 of its next 14 games. The dismal stretch extended through the Utah Tournament, the National Invitational and into the beginning of league play.
But on March 26 something changed. Santa Barbara started to win again. In fact, it started to win on a consistent basis. The Gauchos attacked the University of San Diego, Riverside, Brown and Sacramento State; they played a total of eight games in six days. When the week was over and the dust settled it was Santa Barbara who came out on top, winning six of the eight contests.
UCSB would taste a winning streak only one more time all year, but what a streak it was. Santa Barbara managed to take two out of three games off of Long Beach State and then swept a doubleheader from Riverside. The winning streak stopped at four games, but it was the second longest streak for the Gauchos all year.
“Against Long Beach we just had fun and everything came together,” Santos said. “We just performed better. For some reason there wasn’t as much pressure on us as usual. Out of all our games, Long Beach was the best.”
After the Riverside wins, Santa Barbara would lose its sense of direction and nose dive into nine straight losses to end the season.
Leading the Gauchos on the mound this season was sophomore ace Santos. The Brawley native had a misleading 7-13 record and 2.4 ERA. Santos made 20 starts, 32 total appearances and tossed a team-high 134 innings.
Santa Barbara’s stable force at the plate all year long was sophomore outfielder E.J. Lauchland. Lauchland was the team leader in almost every statistical category, including batting average, runs scored, hits, doubles, total bases and slugging percentage.
Fortunately, this same group of girls will have a chance to come back next year and try to prove themselves again, minus senior third baseman Teresa Tolson. The Sacramento native was the only senior on the squad this year, and her services will certainly be missed.
“I’m very excited,” sophomore outfielder Sarah Brown said. “I think that we have a great group of girls, and I am confident that next year we will recognize our potential and perform to our fullest.”