With the help of the NCAA increasing the number of teams selected to the National Softball Tournament this year, the UCSB softball team has a chance to qualify for the first time ever. All Santa Barbara has to do is beat the #6 team in the country.
The Gauchos head into Cal State Fullerton today for a double-header and a Saturday afternoon contest that will dictate whether the most accomplished Gaucho softball team in school history will keep playing after this weekend.
“We definitely have a chance. It helps that we received some votes early on. And of the games we lost, we never lost big, so hopefully they’ll look at that,” UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “It looks like we’re on the bubble right now, but a win this weekend would definitely help our chances. This was our goal coming in, and so we’ll definitely be disappointed if we don’t make it.”
For the Gauchos (34-19, 9-8 in the Big West), a team that has tied the school record for wins with 34, a postseason bid would be a perfect acknowledgement of how far this program has come. Just two years ago, Santa Barbara finished 18-34 overall.
Seven seniors have experienced both sides of the spectrum for Gaucho softball and might be playing their final games in UCSB uniforms this weekend.
“It’s kind of sad, but at the same time it’s exciting that there’s a possibility to go to the postseason,” senior catcher Jami Trinidad said.
Trinidad has carried the Gauchos on her back the whole season and has been especially hot as of late. Trinidad leads the Gauchos in virtually every offensive category including, batting average (.384), RBIs (43), HRs (6) and extra-base hits (20). By the end of the weekend, Trinidad might own the record books too. She is three hits and one double away from tying all-time marks in each category and six RBIs short of tying the career record.
Also trying to extend the season is senior pitcher Loren Thornburg, who will start today’s game for UCSB. Thornburg has been crude to hitters in her senior campaign, posting a 1.19 ERA including a 0.90 ERA in her last eight starts with 36 strikeouts.
“We’re going to have to play our best game this weekend. We’re good enough to beat them, we’ve just gotta do it,” Thornburg said.
Fullerton has won 27 consecutive conference games at home, and the last time they were beaten by the Gauchos was 1998. A win against Fullerton would be the first for this year’s seniors and a fitting way to complete their triumphant transformation.
“In four years, we had a great time you know. We have no regrets,” senior first baseman Sarah Brown said. “Especially going out the way we did. It’s been great and I’ll miss it.”
Fellow senior left fielder Ashley Groefsema has made a point of making the best of her season. In the last two weekends she has hit .500, going seven for 14 with four runs scored. Groefsema has been a staple in the Gaucho outfield this season with a .975 fielding percentage.
The Gauchos will likely have a game Sunday with Long Beach State to make up for a rain-out last weekend. The game’s site and time have yet to be determined.