Just two years removed from a last-place finish in the Big West, the UCSB softball team is notifying the rest of the conference that it is a force to be reckoned with both in the Big West and on the national scene.
Before falling to Iowa State in Sunday’s Softball by the Beach Tournament finale, the Gauchos (15-5 overall, 0-0 in the Big West) won four straight games, beating the likes of Michigan State, Kansas, University of San Diego and San Diego State. Dramatically, three out of UCSB’s four victories were in extra innings or in the team’s final at-bat.
After grinding out a 2-1 victory over Michigan State in eight innings on Friday afternoon, the Gauchos found themselves down 3-2 going into the last half of the seventh inning against Kansas. Santa Barbara won the game in climactic fashion as senior Jami Trinidad singled up the middle to drive in senior outfielder Ashley Groefsema and junior outfielder Leslie Simien for the game’s winning runs.
After Groefsema reached on an error to lead off the inning, Simien reached on a bunt single. After Kansas failed to gun down Groefsema at third on senior Chantal Pershing’s groundball, the stage was set for Trinidad with the bases loaded and nobody out. The catcher delivered, stinging a pitch past two diving infielders to send UCSB home with an exciting 4-3 victory.
“It was really exciting,” Groefsema said. “This was a really good indication of this team’s progress. We played some close games against some good teams. There were plenty of opportunities to give up and we didn’t. We’re really fighters this year; we never give up.”
The Gauchos drew inspiration from Head Coach Kristy Schroeder, who attended three of the five weekend games despite giving birth to a baby girl on Wednesday.
“Just seeing Coach was amazing,” freshman pitcher Carly Harmon said. “She brought the baby out; I think it really inspired our whole team.”
UCSB continued its strong play in the tournament’s second day by shutting out the University of San Diego 5-0. Freshman right-handed hurler Harmon tacked on to her already impressive rookie campaign by pitching a complete game, a one-hit shutout.
“[The shutout] was pretty cool,” Harmon said. “I have a friend on USD so it kind of felt like home. I felt a little more pressure in the Kansas game because I know Kansas is good, but I’m really confident in our defense. I was fine after the first inning.”
The Gauchos got another exciting win Saturday night, beating San Diego State University 1-0 in nine innings as senior ace Loren Thornburg dominated the Aztecs, allowing just two hits in nine innings of work. Although Santa Barbara was shut out in the finale by Iowa State, their 4-1 record was good enough to tie for the tournament championship and give the Gauchos confidence heading into Wednesday’s doubleheader versus UCLA.