There is no substitute for a real-live competition.

Until a team plays an actual game, it is hard to know what to expect. Judging by the results of UCSB softball team’s Early Bird Tournament, there is no limit to what we can expect from the Gauchos this season.

Santa Barbara won all five games it played against Long Beach State, Santa Clara, and Illinois-Chicago. Senior right-handed pitcher Loren Thornburg starred by throwing shutouts against Illinois-Chicago and LBSU. During a 12-strikeout performance against UIC, Thornburg struck out seven consecutive batters. Junior outfielder E.J. Lauchland led the Gauchos at the plate by driving in the game-winning runs in back-to-back contests. Junior outfielder Leslie Simien tied a UCSB record by stealing her 57th base in her illustrious career. All in all, it was a satisfying debut for the squad with such high expectations. The Gauchos didn’t seem surprised, however.

“It’s exactly what I expected,” junior shortstop Heather Nobbe said. “We’re an all-around good team. We hit and pitch well. Hopefully this is just a preview of this year, a preview of the type of team that Coach Schroeder is building.”

Nobbe had individual success as well, leading the charge in the 4-1 victory over Santa Clara by going 2-4 with 3 RBI. “I had a good one this weekend,” Nobbe said. “I played well defensively and I hit the ball well. I was very pleased.”

Thornburg got Santa Barbara off on the right foot with a win versus Illinois-Chicago 3-0 in the opener Friday. Inspired by Thornburg’s 12 strikeouts, freshman pitcher Carly Harmon struck out eight batters in Friday’s second game against Santa Clara. UCSB fought back to tie the game at three in the sixth inning on a home run by senior utility Jami Trinidad. Lauchland won the game an inning later by driving in Simien.

A day later, Lauchland did it again by knocking in the game-winning runs in Santa Barbara’s 5-0 triumph against Long Beach State, as Thornburg pitched her second shutout in as many days.

“I didn’t go up there thinking that I had to win the game,” Lauchland said. “I went up there thinking that I need to hit a good pitch. I wasn’t at the top of my game at the plate this weekend. I was just trying to put the ball in play.” Lauchland singled up the middle with two outs in the bottom of seventh to bring in Simien and end the game. “Once I rounded first base all of a sudden I realized that we won.”

Simien put the icing on the cake to a great weekend for the Gauchos by stealing her 57th career base in the 7-3 win over Illinois-Chicago on Sunday. Only a junior, Simien has a chance to put a lot of distance between herself and the others on Santa Barbara’s all-time steals list.

The Gauchos can’t wait to get back on the diamond this weekend at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, knowing that their preseason confidence was justified.

“This is just a taste of what we can do,” Lauchland said. “Everybody had confidence coming in, but it’s nice to finally play a game and get some wins.”

From the looks of things, the confidence is here to stay and the winning is too.