With a doubleheader against a fair Utah squad today and a three-game weekend series at cellar dweller Utah State, now is the time for the UCSB softball team to work up an appetite.

The Gauchos have plenty of bottom feeding ahead of them.

Fifth in the Big West, UCSB will most likely need to sweep both series to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Santa Barbara’s chances of finishing in the top three in conference remain very real. UCSB stands only a half-game behind Pacific and two and a half games back of third place Cal State Northridge.

“We’ve dug ourselves a bit of a hole, but we still hope to finish top two in conference,” senior left fielder Ashley Groefsema said. “That was our goal and it still is.”

UCSB (30-16 overall, 5-6 in the Big West) goes into Utah (16-21 overall) with a less than attractive 2-4 conference road record. The Gauchos are also 8-9 away overall, a trend that bodes ill for the Gauchos with eight of their last 12 games on the road.

“We have to stay focused the whole game,” UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “If we pick it up, we still have a shot at regionals; but it’s going to be up to the girls.”

Last weekend epitomized the Gauchos’ road struggles this season. Playing at sixth place Cal Poly, UCSB dropped two of three games, playing perhaps their worst softball of the season. Santa Barbara made numerous costly errors and couldn’t capitalize on offense against the worst defensive team in the Big West.

Still, UCSB remains positive about what lays ahead in the last three weeks of the season.

“We’ve got nothing to lose right now,” senior catcher Jami Trinidad said. “We know we’re capable of winning out, but we have to take it one game at a time.”

Statistically the Gauchos are among the best in the conference offensively and defensively. The squad’s .264 batting average is third best in the Big West while the increasingly impressive pitching duo of senior Loren Thornburg and freshman Carly Harmon holds the top team ERA at 1.40, which is also 20th best in the nation.

If the UCSB pitching staff can hold up this weekend and the Gauchos back up their aces in the field, then the team could fair well against the Utes and Aggies. Utah is the worst fielding team in the Mountain West, and the Aggies are the worst pitching team in the Big West.

Utah State stands at 6-28 overall and 1-8 in the conference.